The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is continuing its investigation into the viral and horrifying video of a shark being dragged by the tail behind a boat.
FWC law enforcement public information coordinator Rob Klepper told the Bradenton Herald on Monday, one week after the video surfaced on Instagram, that “officers are working as hard and fast as they can,” but “since there’s a lot of moving parts” to the investigation, there’s no telling how long it will take.
The video was posted on July 24 by Capt. Mark Quartiano, known as “marktheshark” on Instagram, who identified Bo Benac, son of Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, and Michael Wenzel, son of Manatee County’s planning section manager, as the ones who had sent him the video. Officials have not released the names of the four anglers being investigated, and FWC said it’s too early to tell what, if any, crimes happened.
But the public has reacted not too kindly to the video, sparking a protest against the new MTV show “Siesta Key,” as one of the cast members is linked to one of the anglers. Local fishermen even said the image was “sad” and “unfortunate.”
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Mote Marine Laboratory’s Robert Hueter, the director of the Center for Shark Research, said he was contacted by a FWC officer to give some insight on the video.
They had asked what species of shark was being dragged and if he could tell if it was alive. With nothing but the shaky cell phone footage, Hueter couldn’t answer either question for certain.
To identify the kind of shark, Hueter said he would need to know the time of year and location. The officer couldn’t divulge the information as the investigation was ongoing.
If Hueter had to guess, the shark could have been a female blacktip, a species that is doing relatively well in the wild and is not protected. But many species in Florida look similar, he said.
“There is some uncertainty,” he said.
As for whether the shark was alive, Hueter only had the commentary to rely on.
“Look, it’s already almost dead,” said one boater in the video.
“That indicated to me that the animal was still kicking,” Hueter said. But by the way the shark was bouncing in the waves as the boat sped forward, Hueter said he couldn’t tell for sure.
The viral video even prompted a letter from Gov. Rick Scott to FWC, a gesture that surprised Hueter.
“It’s just an isolated incident and he’s busy with many things, but I’m glad he feels this is an important enough issue to write to FWC,” he said.
FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski responded to the letter in a statement, saying, “Florida is a sportsman’s destination and there is no place in Florida for these kinds of callous acts. We are eager to move forward with the Governor’s suggestion to review and strengthen regulations as necessary to help deter this type of behavior in the future.”
In Florida, there are 12 species of sharks, including the blacktip, that do not have a limit on how big they have to be to fish for them, according to the FWC. But there are 26 species that are prohibited from being harvested in waters around Florida.
Most anglers are respectful of marine life, Hueter said. The behavior he and thousands of others viewed last week was reminiscent of the days of boasting strength by wrangling in a shark by any means necessary.
But changing regulations to prohibit what Scott called “heinous actions,” it might not be so easy.
“Whether or not you can apply animal cruelty laws to fish, that’s a pretty difficult legal question,” Hueter said.
If anything, Hueter said he as a would like to take the opportunity to sit down with the men in the video so they can learn how to appreciate what he called “incredibly beautiful creatures” that are “important animals in the marine environment.”
“Let’s reach those people,” he said. “This is not appropriate and society’s not going to put up with this kind of thing.”