After Americans learned about the 1985 incident of a black bear that went on a coke-fueled, carnivorous blood fest in the comedic horror film "Cocaine Bear" earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before entertainment companies produced content about the possibility of cocaine-fueled sharks off Florida's coast.
Tom "The Blowfish" Hird and the University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara conducted a series of tests to see whether sharks off Florida's coast may have ingested bales of cocaine ditched by drug smugglers en route to the US, according to 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," Hird said.
A recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report showed a spike in global cocaine demand and supply. Major South and Central America to US routes are through the Caribbean Sea. There have been many reports over the decades of drug smugglers ditching bales of cocaine or sinking vessels due to hitting reefs. And it's not unreasonable to believe marine life has ingested this drug.
In one experiment, Hird and 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.
To investigate further, Hird and Fanara design three experiments to see how sharks react to bales of "cocaine" dropped in the water. They create packages similar in size and appearance to real cocaine bales. In the first, they set these pseudo-bales next to dummy swans to see what the sharks go to. To their surprise, the sharks head straight for the bales, taking bites from them. One shark even grabs a bale and swims off with it.
Next, they make a bait ball of highly concentrated fish powder, which would trigger a dopamine rush as close to a hit of cocaine as the team could feasibly (and ethically) do. The sharks are seen going 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."
Finally, the team drop their fake cocaine bales from an airplane to simulate a real-life drug drop — and multiple shark species, including tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), move in.
Hird said that what they uncovered doesn't necessarily show that sharks in Florida are consuming cocaine. A multitude of factors could explain the behavior observed during filming, and these experiments would need to be repeated over and over to draw full conclusions.
"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. --Live Science
In a separate topic, Hird said it's not just cocaine but pharmaceutical drugs that are getting into the waterways and affecting marine life.
"The other thing we might find is actually this long flow, [this] drip of pharmaceuticals: caffeine, lidocaine, cocaine, amphetamine, antidepressants, birth control — this long slow drift of them from cities into the [ocean] is… starting to hit these animals," Hird said.
Bears... Sharks... What's the next animal?