Sharks, Bigfoot Lead Our Top News Stories of 2003

Ryan Mitchell
National Geographic News
Updated December 31, 2003
View a Photo Gallery of the Top Ten Stories of 2003: Go >>

Sharks and mysteries of the universe captured the imaginations of National Geographic News readers in 2003. The ocean's most feared predator and more unusual subjects accounted for half of the top ten news stories of the year and vied for the number one slot.

Our stories about Bigfoot, an alleged hominid believers say roams the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and the effects of the full moon on the behavior of animals and criminals alike, held commanding leads until late in the game. The search for extraterrestrial life using radio transmissions from space also made the list.

In December, however, sharks that ply the waters off the coast of South Africa leapt to the top of the most-read list. A Q&A with husband-and-wife photographic team Chris and Monique Fallows and two accompanying photo galleries surpassed nature's novelties with over a million page visits.

Plants and animals, space, archaeology, and paleontology are perennial favorites with News readers and rounded out the top ten stories of the year. America Online featured many of these stories on its welcome screen—and millions of AOL members clicked through to read the full reports on

Here, in ascending order of popularity, as measured by total number of visitors to each one of them, are National Geographic's hottest online stories for 2003:

10. Search for ETs Focuses on 166 "Promising" Signals
John Roach
March 27, 2003

Astronomers searching for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life wrapped up their mission in Puerto Rico to home in on some of the more exciting radio transmission to reach Earth. They collected data on 166 sources, exceeding their original goal of 150. Go >>

9. Weird Plants Taking Root in Everyday Gardens
John Roach
August 28, 2003

Some smell like putrefied meat, others have stalks reminiscent of male anatomy, and others are outrageously big, or black, or carnivorous, or explosive. The world is full of weird plants and more and more people are encouraging them to take root in their gardens. Full story and photo gallery: Go >>

8. Four-Winged Dinosaurs Found in China, Experts Announce
Hillary Mayell
January 22, 2003

Paleontologists in China have discovered the fossil of a four-winged dinosaur with fully developed feathers on all its limbs. The new species provides more evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and could help answer the question of how a group of ground-dwelling flightless dinosaurs evolved to a feathered animal capable of flying. Full story and photo gallery: Go >>

7. Underwater Photographer On Swimming With Sharks
David Braun
July 7, 2003

Charles Maxwell is an underwater cinematographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. A keen diver and lover of the marine environment for 35 years, Maxwell has made documentaries for the National Geographic Society and the BBC. He talks about his life's work and shares some of his favorite underwater images. Full story and two photo galleries: Go >>

6. April Fools' Special: History's Hoaxes
John Roach
April 1, 2003

At first glance, the headlines sound plausible: Shark leaps from ocean to attack a hovering helicopter. Alabama legislature votes to change the value of the mathematical constant pi. But they are lies. Happy April Fools' Day. In celebration of the day, National Geographic News has compiled a listing of some of the greatest hoaxes in history. Go >>

5. First Picture of Earth From Mars
David Braun
May 22, 2003

Four centuries after the first telescopes were turned towards Mars, the first snapshot has been taken of Earth from the red planet. The camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor shot an image of our planet a few weeks ago, producing a picture of "a tiny alien world in the vast darkness of space," according to the scientists who processed it. Go >>

4. Elusive African Apes: Giant Chimps or New Species?
John Roach
April 14, 2003

A mysterious group of apes in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo has scientists and conservationist scratching their heads. The apes nest on the ground like gorillas but have a diet and features characteristic of chimpanzees. Go >>

3. Full Moon Effect on Behavior Minimal, Studies Say
John Roach
October 8, 2003

Beware: The moon is full. People will party. Dogs will bite. Robbers will steal. Murderers will kill. Will the full moon cause such erratic behavior? Research indicates that for each study supporting this belief, one exists to refute it. Go >>

2. Forensic Expert Says Bigfoot Is Real
Stefan Lovgren
October 23, 2003

It's been the subject of campfire stories for decades. A camera-elusive, grooming-challenged, bipedal ape-man that roams the mountain regions of North America. Some call it Sasquatch. Others know it as Bigfoot. Thousands claim to have to have seen the hairy hominid, but the evidence of its existence is fuzzy. Go >>

2003 Top Story: Photographing Africa's "Flying Sharks"
Ryan Mitchell and David Braun
November 24, 2003

Husband-and-wife team Monique and Chris Fallows make a living by photographing a dramatic spectacle of nature: giant sharks hurtling through the air as they rocket with great velocity from murky depths to catch seals near the surface. This interview includes two photo galleries of the "flying sharks" of South Africa. Full story and photo gallery: Go >>

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