Three South Florida men have been arrested in connection with a viral video that allegedly showed them violently dragging a shark behind a boat.
WPLG reported that the footage gained traction in July after fisherman Mark Quartiano re-posted the video to his Instagram page. State officials announced Tuesday that their four-month investigation has concluded with the arrests of Michael Wenzel, 21, Robert Benac, 28, and Spencer Heintz, 23, on felony aggravated animal cruelty charges.
The video, which can be seen below, supposedly shows the three men laughing on a boat before the camera pans to a shark being dragged in the water behind the vessel.
“As we’ve said since this video and other images came to light, these actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Bo Rivard said.
“It is our hope these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”
Yet, Florida Fish and Wildlife investigators said the 10-second clip only provided a small window into the three men’s disturbing behavior that day.
According to NDTV, Wenzel, Benac, and Heintz embarked on the Gulf of Mexico on June 26 armed with a spear gun and a .38-caliber revolver. Benac allegedly first speared a blacknose shark clean through, an illegal act that follows with him and Nicholas Easterling celebrating as Wenzel records.
Two hours later, Benac reportedly caught a 6-foot-long blacktip which suffered a fate worse than the first shark. Wenzel is accused of pulling the blacktip close to a boat and shooting it in the head with the revolver.
Authorities said the shark helplessly attempted to get away but, because it was hooked, it could only move from one side of the boat to the other. Wenzel is said to have shot the shark three more times as the other men applauded.
“Get it again! Get it again!” Heintz yelled between laughs, according to the affidavit.
Three biologists told investigators that massive fish was probably alive when the men put it on the boat and tied a line around its tail.
The viral video picks up with the shark flopping on the water’s surface as the men are heard cheering.
Reports indicated that the ordeal ended a half-minute later when Wenzel says, “I think it’s dead,” and a man picks up the unrecognizable shark for a photo op.
NDTV noted that Easterling was also investigated but wasn’t charged as he cooperated with authorities. Benac and Wenzel were also charged with one count of illegal method of taking, according to WFTV.
“I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement.
“Florida has no tolerance for this mistreatment, and I am proud of the hard work of FWC law enforcement during this investigation to hold these individuals accountable for their horrific actions.”
[Featured Image: Mark Quartiano/Instagram]