Almost five months after a video surfaced showing a shark being brutally dragged behind a boat on the West Coast of Florida, three Florida men have been charged with felony animal cruelty. The shark could be seen bouncing and skipping across the water while the men laughed.
In addition to two counts each of aggravated animal cruelty - a third-degree felony - Wenzel and Benac were also charged with a misdemeanor alleging that they took a shark from state waters using unlawful methods.
Shortly after the video gained traction online, FWC officials said that they had identified the men involved but would not release their names until charges had been filed. Wenzel was booked into the Pinellas County jail at 12:30 p.m. and freed at 7 p.m. after posting $4,250 bail, according to records. Benac and Wenzel face an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal take. "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.
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Prosecutors in Hillsborough County are handling the case. Among the events recorded, the affidavit noted, were the men shooting a black nose shark with a spear gun and then dancing on the bow of the boat.
The 10-second video, which outraged Floridians, local politicians and animal activists alike, showed a shark tethered behind a speeding watercraft, flailing in the boat's wake.
"Look, it's already nearly dead", one man says, pointing at the shark, as the animal's body bounces off the water.
"Even if the shark was dead, you don't do that", he said at the time. Benac later claimed in Instagram posts that they dragged the shark behind the boat to kill it, but admitted their behavior was "excessive".
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They say a fourth individual that was on the boat the day of the incident provided information and cooperated with investigators.
'The State Attorney's Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty.
The video was so appalling that a quarter-million people signed a petition demanding the men be imprisoned, and Gov. Rick Scott wrote that "the brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening".
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