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Cocaine-Addicted Sharks May be Feasting on Drugs Dumped off Florida Coast

Cocaine Sharks
Lemon shark swimming among divers. Credit: WIlly VolkCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Scientists say that sharks lurking off of Florida’s coast may be eating bundles of cocaine dumped in the ocean by US-bound drug smugglers.

With the massive amounts of drugs washing up on beaches and being pulled out of the ocean by authorities each year, marine biologist Tom Hird wanted to investigate whether or not sharks had ingested cocaine as part of a new TV series “Cocaine Sharks” — which will premiere during Discovery Channel’s beloved “Shark Week” next week.

In the program, Hird and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara conduct a number of experiments on sharks off the Florida Keys, where fishermen have reportedly told tales about drug-addicted fish.

“The deeper story here is the way that chemicals, pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs are entering our waterways — entering our oceans — and what effect that they then could go on to have on these delicate ocean ecosystems,” Hird told Live Science.

Hird and Fantana dove underwater and noticed some sharks acting strangely in the episode.

A hammerhead shark, a species that typically shies away from humans, darted right at them and appeared to be swimming askew.

At 60 feet below the surface, a sandbar shark was seen swimming in tight circles, appearing fixated on an object that was not there, according to the show.

How sharks reacted to fake cocaine bales

Next, they tested how sharks reacted to the packages they dropped in the water which were similar in size and shape to cocaine bales.

In the experiment, they placed the fake bales next to dummy swans, and were shocked to watch sharks head directly for the bales and take bites out of them — with one shark even swimming away with one.

Hird and Fantana then attempted to ethically recreate the physical rush of cocaine with a highly-concentrated ball of fish powder to trigger a massive dopamine response from the sharks.

The sharks can be seen going wild, according to Live Science.

“I think we have got a potential scenario of what it may look like if you gave sharks cocaine,” Hird says on the program. “We gave them what I think is the next best thing. [It] set [their] brains aflame. It was crazy.”

For their final experiment, they dropped imitation bales of cocaine from an airplane to simulate how the drugs might actually get into the shark’s ecosystem.

Multiple shark species made a bee-line for the fakes, the scientists observed.

Hird said their experiments don’t prove that there are drug-addicted sharks consuming cocaine off Florida.

More experiments would have to be repeated and there could be a wide number of environmental reasons why the sharks responded in such a way.

“We have no idea what [cocaine] could do to the shark,” Hird told Live Science, adding that of the limited research that’s been done, different fish appear to react in different ways to the same chemical. “So we can’t even say, well this is a baseline and go from here,” he said.

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