Discovery’s Shark Week took a stab at determining if there are cocaine-jacked sharks in the Florida Keys, but many viewers felt the experiment was just too much.
For decades there have been news stories about cocaine bales washing up on Florida’s beaches, generally due to traffickers ditching them into the sea while fleeing law enforcement. And to go with those stories are plenty of locals’ tales about shark-sized bites being taken out of some of the bales they’ve seen.
All of that has led to theories that sharks may be ingesting or absorbing cocaine in the water, thus making them more unpredictable and erratic. You throw in the hit comedy-horror film Cocaine Bear that was released earlier this year and inspired by a true story, and you’ve got the special-event show Cocaine Sharks as part of Discovery Channel’s yearly celebration of all things shark.
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The show enlisted marine biologist and shark behaviorist Tom “The Fish” Hird and environmental engineer Tracy Fanara to sniff out the potential cocaine-affected sharks. They conducted a series of experiments that included swimming with sharks in what they believed to be a high-traffic area for cocaine bale droppings. Meanwhile, in the following clip, Hird did encounter a hammerhead shark that he believed was exhibiting unusual behavior.
They also dropped some fake cocaine bales and fake birds in shark-heavy waters to see what the animals would do and ultimately proved that sharks likely would interact with the bales if they came in contact with them.
Next Hird dove in with the sharks and unleashed a large amount of highly concentrated fish powder they believed would affect similar parts of a shark brain as cocaine. The goal was to try and see firsthand how a dopamine hit could affect the sharks’ behavior, and it was certainly a chaotic scene.
Finally, the study concluded with actual simulated bale droppings — once again filled with the fish powder — from airplanes to see if sharks would recognize the sound of bales hitting the water and making their way to the surface for their fix. And make their way to the surface they did.
Of course the experiments weren’t overly scientific, and Hird even admitted at the end of the show that, “we may never know what sharks on cocaine actually look like” and that more study is “definitely needed.” Which could be why many viewers on Twitter weren’t all that impressed and expressed opinions that the whole idea jumped the shark — pun intended.
And while the study to determine whether area sharks are developing a coke problem didn’t produce any hard evidence, Hird and Fanara did eventually point to some of the bigger issues at play.
“One thing is for sure, with the amount of pharmaceuticals we’re putting into our bodies, whether they’re legal or not, they’re eventually making their way to the oceans,” Hird said. “And it’s not just top predators like sharks, they’re impacting fish, corals, mussels. They’re impacting everything.”
Fanara echoed his sentiments and added that the effects of man-made chemicals in the ocean are really hard to study, but this show’s results call for more research on how recreational drugs could be impacting “the pillars of our ecosystem.”
And considering the U.S. Coast Guard announced the recovery of more than $186 million worth of illegal narcotics in the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans in June of this year, the possibility of cocaine-fueled sharks — or any sea creature for that matter — is not going anywhere.
Shark Week airs this week on Discovery.