Three Florida boaters seen in a viral video dragging a shark at a “high speed” through the water — prompting outcries of “animal lynching” from some activists — were charged Tuesday with felony counts, authorities said.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission news release said 21-year-old Michael Wenzel and 23-year-old Spencer Heintz of Palmetto, along with 28-year-old Robert Lee Benac of Bradenton, each face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
Wenzel and Benac also face a misdemeanor count of taking a shark illegally.
Fox News previously reported that the video of the shark being dragged went viral in late July after a Miami sport fisherman criticized it on social media.
Eric Hovland, the Florida Aquarium’s associate curator, said the video made his “stomach flip,” and he described it as “animal lynching.”
“It’s flipping and tossing around,” Hovland said of the shark in the video. “It looks like it’s even been roped by the tail. I mean this just wasn’t hooked on a line and accidentally dragged. This was purposeful and tragic.”
FWC Chairman Bo Rivard said he hopes the charges send a clear message that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.
“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 in the statement. “We appreciate the patience and support of the public as our law enforcement investigators worked with the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office to identify a number of serious violations that will be brought to the courts for adjudication. 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.”
Prosecutors in Hillsborough County are handling the case.
“The State Attorney’s Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in investigating these crimes, and we stand with them, along with Florida’s fishing and hunting communities, and all those who cherish our precious natural resources, in condemning the torture of our marine wildlife,” said Andrew H. Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in the statement.
Jail records didn’t list attorneys for the men.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.