By now, you’ve surely seen - or at least heard about - the video out of Florida that has outraged the internet. In the clip, a shark is dragged by a rope behind a speedboat, while the people on board laugh. The shark’s body slams against the surface of the choppy water, and in addition to suffering from this trauma, the shark is likely also suffocating from the lack of water passing through his or her gills. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening,” and has called on state officials to review Florida fishing regulations “to ensure such inhumane acts are strictly prohibited.” Reportedly, the same people who shot this disturbing clip also posted a photo of the shark’s mangled body, torn to pieces by their abuse.
How many more examples of such total disregard for life must we witness before we humans finally understand that bullying and killing animals for alcohol-fueled antics and narcissistic selfies is wrong?
Sadly, there seems to be no limit to the number and species of animals manhandled by ignorant gawkers for photo and video ops - from a baby dolphin yanked out of the water and passed around by tourists to peacocks grabbed out of a zoo exhibit for selfies - but sharks seem to bear the brunt of the abuse.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating a second video, possibly of the same boat crew responsible for the shark-dragging incident, showing a hammerhead shark being used as a “beer bong”: A man positioned beneath the shark drinks beer as it’s poured through the animal’s gills.
Last year, a video and photos circulated showing a group of men, purportedly lifeguards at a hotel in the Dominican Republic, dragging a shark out of the water and forcing the animal’s face into the sand. The shark died. A few months earlier, video footage had surfaced of a man in Florida pulling a struggling shark from the ocean and pinning down the resistant animal while mugging for the camera. It’s unclear whether that shark survived the encounter.
Commenting on the speedboat video, Neil Hammerschlag, a shark expert at the University of Miami, told the Miami Herald, “Maybe if you’re able to overcome a big shark, there’s a sense of accomplishment. But there’s other ways to express that, and certainly animal cruelty is not a good one. You know - arm wrestle.”
Like us, sharks have unique personalities, and they socialize and form friendships.
Porbeagle sharks have been observed playing with objects floating in the water, repeatedly rolling themselves in kelp fronds and chasing after other sharks who trailed pieces of kelp behind them.
Biologist Peter Best once witnessed several great whites working together to move the carcass of a partially beached whale to deeper waters so that they could eat it.
Sharks have long-term memories, they teach each other how to find food, they can perceive optical illusions and they feel pain.
And tellingly - unless some drunken idiots are dragging them from their ocean home - sharks naturally shun human contact.
Bullying an animal who just wants to be left alone is not brave. It’s not funny. It’s pathetic. If any good can come of the outcry over these sickening videos, perhaps it’s that more people will understand that animals aren’t playthings for us to use and abuse - and leave them in peace.
Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.