Three men in Florida have been charged with animal abuse after they shared a video in which they dragged a shark through the water. The high-speed boaters, Michael Wenzel (21), Spencer Heintz (23), along with 28-year-old Robert Lee Benac face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
In addition, Wenzel and Benac have also been charged with taking a shark illegally.
The video originally went viral in July when a Miami sport fisherman Mark Quartiano criticised it on social media. Soon it was picked up by animal activists and conservationists who voiced anger over the brutal treatment of the shark.
"It's flipping and tossing around," Eric Hovland, Florida Aquarium's associate curator said of the stomach-turning clip. "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."
Bo Rivard, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) that worked with prosecutors to levy the charges, has said that he hopes others will see this as a warning.
"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," Rivard said 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 behaviour involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated."
Prosecutors in Hillsborough County will handle the case and Andrew H. Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit said his office was committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such "senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty".
Governor Rick Scott also slammed the men for enjoying the torture of an animal. "I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year," he said. "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."