It’s been called “unfortunate,” “stupid,” “pure evil.”
Shocking video of a shark being dragged behind a speed boat, apparently in the Gulf of Mexico near Manatee County, has gone viral and garnered plenty of reactions.
And charter caption Rick Gross of Fishy Business LLC in Anna Maria Island said the video — which shows a shark being pulled by its tail behind a boat at high speeds — shines a bad light on fellow anglers. Most of those he knows, Gross said, are trying to show they are protecting the resources.
“And I really think we’ve come a long way from this. ... There are people that shark fish, they love to do it. They love the fight and they put the fish back in the water,” Gross said.
An investigation has been opened concerning the video and is ongoing with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, public information coordinator Rob Klepper confirmed in an email. It’s unclear if the actions in the video broke any laws.
Investigators are working to determine the species of shark and where the video was taken, Klepper said.
The subjects in the video have been identified by FWC but had not been charged as of Thursday. Previously, the Bradenton Herald had not named the men on the boat.
However, local news and online commenters have identified the four as West Coast anglers they’ve repeatedly complained about, including Michael Wenzel and Robert Lee “Bo” Benac, whose mother is chairwoman of the Manatee County Commission. Neither Wenzel’s father, the Manatee County planning section manager, nor Commissioner Benac have responded to requests for comment.
A call to Bo Benac’s cell phone this week by the Herald was met with the response, “I have no comment for you.”
More than 2,000 people signed a Change.org petition by late Thursday calling for Florida wildlife officials to revoke the men’s fishing licenses and order them to perform community service. Facebook and other online posts also continued to draw hundreds of angry comments, with the latest images showing two of the men pouring beer into the gaping mouth of a protected Goliath grouper, over the gills of a hammerhead shark and shooting what appears to be a tarpon.
“None of the individuals in the video have been charged criminally and no one has been arrested,” said Jon Weiffenbach, who has been named as attorney of record for those appearing in the video, in an email to the Bradenton Herald. He had no further comment.
A previous investigation was opened into one of the men involved, based on photos he previously posted with birds and fish. No charges were filed and the case was closed in January, Kepper said.
The video was sent from the creators to Capt. Mark Quartiano, the celebrity Miami shark hunter known as Mark the Shark. He posted it to his Instagram account, denounced its content and notified officials, according to the Miami Herald.
Jaron Nalewak, an attorney in Pennsylvania whose family has property in Bradenton, said he also posted the video to the @oceanarmor Instagram account. He described the account as an outlet used for helping the oceans and “called out for their actions against the helpless.”
“It made me feel so disgusted I couldn’t work the whole day,” Nalewak said. “I don’t appreciate people doing what those guys did to that shark. That’s why I felt so strongly. We had to post it.”
Gross, who has been fishing his whole life and has been a charter captain for more than 30 years, doesn’t fish for shark anymore. One reason, he said, is because sharks are slow to reproduce. Sharks have live births, instead of laying eggs.
“To me, it’s just sad,” Gross said. “I hate it. There’s nothing funny about that to me.”
He pointed out that when anglers catch a large shark, there is a technique of tying the shark by its tail to the boat and towing it to kill it. But what he saw in the video, he said, was “just stupid,” and not something to condone.
“It’s very unfortunate and it’s not good and it is not the way the rest of the fishing community. ... It’s one individual doing this,” Gross said.
Nalewak, an animal advocate himself, called the actions “pure evil.”
Nalewak said once followers of the account saw the video, the comments and private messages identifying those in the video started rolling in.
In private chats, Nalewak said, one of the men involved in the video messaged back with a photo of a gutted shark.
Now, one follower has hired a private investigator to look into the matter if charges aren’t filed by FWC, Nalewak said.
“We’re going to make this guy pay for the things he did,” Nalewak said.