In the wake of a video that has shocked the internet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expanding its investigation and two local men have been pointed out for their alleged involvement.
The video that sparked the investigation on July 24 shows a shark being dragged behind a boat at a high rate of speed. It was met with outrage across web pages and in the local angler community.
Now, the investigation has expanded beyond a single video.
“The FWC has received numerous additional images and videos from the public, and investigators are looking into this information as well,” FWC public information coordinator Rob Klepper said in an email Friday to the Bradenton Herald.
The latest video the FWC is investigating shows beer being poured over a shark’s gills and someone drinking the beer as it passes through, using the shark as a “beer bong.”
In an email to the Miami Herald, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region public affairs spokesman Mark Davis said he had not seen that particular video, adding, “Pouring a beer on a shark’s head may be offensive — I regard it that way — but it’s not violating any federal statutes.”
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.
On Friday, the Manatee County School District confirmed that both Wenzel and Benac attended Manatee County schools but citing FERPA weren’t able to provide additional information. The other two men in the video, whose names have not been released, also attended Manatee schools.
In 2014, Wenzel was charged with three first-degree misdemeanors and pleaded no contest, according to Manatee County court documents. Adjudication was withheld. Charges included possessing alcohol under the age of 21; having a false I.D.; and carrying a concealed weapon (brass knuckles).
A call to Bo Benac’s cell phone this week by the Herald was met with the response, “I have no comment for you.”
Wenzel’s father is Robert Wenzel, the Manatee County planning section manager; Benac’s mother is Betsy Benac, chairwoman of the Manatee County Commission. Neither parent has responded to requests for comment.
“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.
Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler confirmed the Wenzels have requested patrols near their home, and the department has been doing that over the last couple of days.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow said he did not know of any similar requests from the Benac family.
An investigation has been opened concerning the videos and is ongoing with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, public information coordinator Rob Klepper confirmed in an email Thursday. It’s unclear if the actions in the video broke any laws.
“The FWC would like to state that the lack of respect shown for our precious natural resources shown in this video is disheartening and disturbing, and is not representative of conservation-minded anglers around the world,” Klepper said.
Investigators are working to determine the species of shark and where the video was taken, Klepper said.
Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Friday, saying he wants to make sure the state’s fishing regulations and statutes strictly prohibited “such inhumane acts.”
“The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening,” he wrote. “I encourage FWC to review Florida’s fishing regulations and state statutes to ensure such inhumane acts are strictly prohibited.”