MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Three men have been charged with animal cruelty after a video surfaced in July showing a shark being dragged behind a speeding boat, Florida wildlife officials announced Tuesday.
The suspects, 21-year-old Michael Wenzel, 28-year-old Robert Lee Benac and 23-year-old Spencer Heintz, all face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty after turning themselves in Tuesday. Benac and Wenzel face an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal take.
“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,” said Commission Chairman Bo Rivard.
The brutal video was shared widely and members of the local fishing community reported the men on social media.
“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 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission said in a statement.
FWC officers said they found “numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges.”
South Florida charter fishing captain and celebrity shark hunter Mark “Mark The Shark” Quartiano shared the video on Instagram over the summer, drawing attention to the case.
In the video, you can see three men in the boat (in addition to the person recording the incident.)
“Look, it’s already almost dead,” one man says, pointing at the shark, as the animal’s body bounces off the water. Laughter can be heard in the background.
Three shark biologists interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times said there was very likely that the animal was still alive during the dragging.
WESH 2 News in Orlando said they had obtained a related photo that shows what appears to be the same shark, ripped to pieces, and being held by two men. The men’s faces are not visible. The station did not publish the photo, saying it was too graphic.
“This is just really sick, one of the most horrific things I have seen in 50 years of professional sport fishing,” WESH quoted Quartiano as saying.
The men face a maximum possible sentence of ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.