Thousands of sharks off Florida's coast may have ingested bales of cocaine left in the water by drug smugglers attempting to get their product into the United States.
Marine biologist Tom Hird wanted to examine whether the sharks have come into contact with the drug, which is the subject of a documentary that will premiere on Discovery Channel's Shark Week called "Cocaine Sharks."
"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, known as "The Blowfish," told Live Science.
Large bricks of cocaine from South and Central America have washed ashore on Florida beaches for decades. The huge bales are often dumped at sea and picked up by drug smugglers on boats.
Hird set off to the Florida Keys to investigate where fishermen told tales of drug-addled sharks consuming the bales. During one dive, they found a hammerhead shark behaving strangely.
In one experiment, Hird and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara created packages similar in size and appearance to real cocaine bales. They observed sharks heading straight for the bales and taking bites from them.
One shark grabbed a bale and swam off with it, they said.
In another, they made a "bait ball" of highly concentrated fish powder, which would trigger a dopamine rush similar to a hit of cocaine. The sharks apparently went wild.
"I think we have got a potential scenario of what it may look like if you gave sharks cocaine," Hird said in the film. "We gave them what I think is the next best thing. [It] set [their] brains aflame. It was crazy."
Hird noted that what they observed doesn't mean the sharks have actually consumed cocaine, saying several factors should be considered and that the experiments would need to be repeated multiple times to draw a conclusion.
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