FOX News and The Associated Press report that three men have been charged with animal cruelty after a video of them dragging a shark at high speed behind a boat went viral. Activists called the recorded incident “animal lynching” and the three are facing felony charges.
Michael Wenzel, 21; Spencer Heintz, 23; and Robert Lee Benac, 28 are each facing two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty. In addition, Benac and Wenzel are facing misdemeanor charges for taking a shark illegally.
The video originally went viral in July after the men shared it with a celebrity shark hunter, and it was criticized on social media. The Florida Aquarium’s associate curator, Eric Hovland, says the shark is shown “flipping and tossing around” and made his “stomach flip.” He also stated that it appeared the shark’s tail had been roped, so the dragging was purposeful – very unlike a situation where a shark may accidentally get dragged after being hooked on a line.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission posted a news release about the charges, and hope they will send a clear message to the public about this type of behavior being unacceptable.
The case is being handled in Hillsborough County, but jail records did not list attorneys for the defendants.
Andrew Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, issued a statement saying they are “committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty,” and that they “thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in investigating these crimes…”
In the video, the men are shown laughing as the shark struggles behind the boat that is traveling at high speed, flopping the shark back and forth behind it. Thousands of people spoke out about the cruelty in the ten-second video, which also revealed that there is an online subculture of fishermen who brutalize their catches for sport, says The Washington Post.
Investigators stated that Benac first speared a shark clean through, which is a crime in Florida, and he was filmed dancing on the boat to celebrate. Benac later hooked a 6-foot blacktip and Wenzel shot it in the head with a .38 once they dragged it close enough to the boat. The shot didn’t kill the shark, which tried to get away but was then caught on the line. Wenzel shot it three more times while the other men laughed and encouraged him. Though the shark was still miraculously alive, the men tied a rope around its tail and began dragging him and filming.
A fourth passenger on the boat cooperated with authorities and was not charged. The other three have been freed on bail.
*Photo credit Instagram/marktheshark