A disturbing video of a shark being dragged backward at high speeds behind a motorboat off the Gulf Coast of Florida hit the internet this summer. Now, three men behind the video may be facing prison time.
The Miami Herald identifies this as part of a new fad which they dub “fish porn” where “a gang of MTV Jackass-like characters talks smack about fishing online and posts images of themselves taking shots at fish with handguns, swilling beer and Jägermeister from the gills of stunned or dead fish, and committing acts that may violate state and federal fishing rules.”
The makers of the video must have thought that the video was amusing. You can hear them laughing each time that the shark’s body is slammed into the water behind the boat. Thousands who viewed the 10-second clip, however, were not amused. Most were revolted by the needless cruelty. The video even attracted the attention of Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who wrote in a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening and I am sure that you share in my outrage over these individuals’ heinous acts.”
Following an investigation by Florida Fish and Wildlife investigators, three men involved in the shark-dragging have been charged. The three turned themselves in to authorities last Tuesday. Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, was the captain of the boat and faces two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and one misdemeanor for using an illegal method to catch a shark. The felony counts are each punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Robert Lee “Bo” Benac, 28, of Bradenton faces the same felony and misdemeanor charges as Wenzel. Spencer Heintz, 23, also of Palmetto, faces two felony charges.
Sharks, as apex predators, are critical to the ocean ecosystem as they help maintain the balance of species in the food chain. In Florida, 23 species of sharks are protected and limits are placed on the number of other sharks. Fishing for non-protected shark species is allowed with a limit of one shark per 1-per-person, 2-fish boat limit for recreational fishermen. Sharks may also only be caught by hook. Use of firearms or spears is illegal.
The shark in the dragging video was speared and then shot multiple times with a 38 caliber pistol before being dragged behind the boat. The Washingpost Post reports: Three biologists who studied the men’s next video told investigators the animal was probably still alive when they threw the bleeding shark back in the water, cranked the boat engine and dragged it behind them like a toy on a string.