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The Blaze
The Blaze
22 Jul 2023
Paul Sacca

NextImg:Scientists investigate if 'cocaine sharks' are feasting on illegal drugs in Florida waters

Scientists have set out to determine if "cocaine sharks" are a real thing in the wild or if it just a potential title for a cheesy sci-fi flick.

In many cases, a drug dealer will dump the illegal narcotics off the boat and into the ocean if they suspect they are about to get caught by authorities. Tons of cocaine have been found floating in oceans just this year.

Italian officials confiscated more than 5 tons of cocaine floating in the ocean off the coast of Sicily this week, and another 2 tons in the water in April.

In May, approximately 80 bales of cocaine weighing 3.2 metric tons were found floating in the Pacific Ocean by New Zealand authorities. The capture was thought to be one of the country's largest drug busts in history.

Also in May, a boater found 16 bricks of cocaine floating off the coast of the Florida Keys.

In June, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it had seized 14,153 pounds of cocaine worth more than $186 million from nine separate cases in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists are now conducting research to determine if sharks are becoming addicted to cocaine.

Marine biologist Tom "The Blowfish" Hird and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara conducted experiments in Florida to see if cocaine sharks are a possible concern.

The scientists conducted experiments over the course of six days off the coast of the Florida Keys – an area "prevalent" for floating bales of cocaine.

The scientists dropped dummy bales into the water. The decoys were the same size as cocaine bales, but contained a highly concentrated fish powder that would reportedly trigger a dopamine rush similar to a hit of cocaine, according to Fox News. The sharks allegedly went wild for the fake cocaine bales.

Hird and Fanara also observed hammerhead sharks in their natural environment, and claimed the sharks' behavior was unusual.

The Guardian said of the research, "A hammerhead, a species that would usually swim away from humans, came directly towards the divers, moving erratically. They also observed a sandbar shark swimming in circles as it focused on an imaginary object."

The research team filmed their experiments for the "Cocaine Sharks" documentary airing on Discovery's upcoming "Shark Week" programming.

Fanara said, "It's a catchy headline to shed light on a real problem, that everything we use, everything we manufacture, everything we put into our bodies, ends up in our wastewater streams and natural water bodies, and these aquatic life we depend on to survive are then exposed to that."

Fanara noted that sharks could be affected by other drugs, but cocaine is so soluble that it could be the most dangerous for aquatic life.

"We’ve seen studies with pharmaceuticals, cocaine, methamphetamines, ketamine, all of these, where fish are being [affected] by drugs," Fanara said.

"If these cocaine bales are a point source of pollution, it’s very plausible [sharks] can be affected by this chemical," she continued "Cocaine is so soluble that any of those packages open just a little, the structural integrity is destroyed and the drug is in the water."

Hird told Live Science, "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."

Fanara said more research must be done to determine if wildlife is being affected by drugs dumped into waterways. She plans to partner with other Florida marine scientists to take blood samples from some of the sharks to see if there is cocaine in their systems.

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‘Cocaine Sharks’ may be ingesting drugs dumped on Florida’s coast | Elizabeth Vargas