FLORIDA: Three Florida men were charged with animal cruelty on Tuesday (Dec 12) after a viral video showed them laughing and smiling as a shark gets dragged behind a high-speed boat.
Michael Wenzel, 21, Robert Lee Benac, 28 and Spencer Heintz, 23, were all charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office in a news release. Wenzel and Benac were also charged with one count each of illegal method of take, a misdemeanor.
The charges resulted from a four-month long investigation into the video and "other disturbing images on social media involving shocking disregard for Florida’s natural resources", the commission said.
Officers conducting the investigation after the video surfaced in July confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges.
The video was posted by Miami charter fisherman Mark Quartiano, who goes by "Mark the Shark", after two Instagram users sent it to him, according to a report on CNN.
Three men in the video are seen laughing and smiling as the animal visibly struggles in the boat's wake. One of the men was on video saying that the shark looks "almost dead".
The video racked up thousands of views and comments on social media, many of them expressing outrage.
Florida wildlife investigators found that the men first shot the shark, then dragged it at high speed, causing its death, according to the CNN report.
Commission Chairman Bo Rivard said these charges should "send a clear message to others that this kind of behaviour involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated".
"These actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone," he added.