‘Cocaine shark’? Scientists investigate whether sharks consume drugs… because of traffickers

Thousands of sharks off the coast of Florida may have become addicted to cocaine, a new study recently revealed. According to the researchers, these marine animals they have feasted on vast amounts of narcotics being dumped into the ocean.

For decades, drug traffickers have been using the Florida coast to smuggle huge packages of cocaine from South and Central America. Often dumped overboard to help smugglers avoid law enforcement, these packets of narcotics wash ashore with the help of tides and currents.

In June, the US Coast Guard seized more than 6,400 kilograms (14,000 pounds) of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with an estimated value of $186 million. Because so much cocaine was getting into the waters, American marine biologist Tom Hird, also known as ‘The Pufferfish,’ he wanted to see if the sharks off the Florida coast were ingesting the narcotics.

To find out, he made a documentary for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week called “Cocaine Sharks.” University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara was also involved in the study. In her experiment, she went to the Florida Keys archipelago to investigate reports that sharks are “high”. During a dive, they found a hammerhead shark and a sandbar shark behaving strangely.

To prove the reports, they dropped packages that looked like bales of cocaine. They observed that the sharks swam directly towards the packages and they bit them.

“I think we have a potential scenario of what it would look like if you gave sharks cocaine,” Hird said in the film. “We gave them what I think is the next best thing. (That) turned on (their) brains. It was crazy.”

In particular, scientists they said they were not convinced that the sharks were using cocaine. They also do not know what the true effects of the substance would be on sea creatures. They said that these experiments need to be done repeatedly to draw full conclusions. He hopes that the program will lead to more research in the area, and that he would like to do more testing.

“We have no idea what (cocaine) might do to the shark,” Hird said, adding that from the limited research that has been done, different fish appear to react in different ways to the same chemical. “So, we can’t even say right, this is a baseline and go from here,” he said.

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