The new TV series “Cocaine Sharks” explores the possibility that sharks off the coast of Florida are consuming cocaine dumped in the ocean by drug smugglers. The show, which will premiere during Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” follows marine biologist Tom Hird and environmental scientist Tracy Fanar as they conduct experiments on sharks in the Florida Keys.
Hird told “The deeper story is how chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and illegal drugs are getting into our waterways entering our oceans and what impact they might have on these delicate ocean ecosystems”.
In the episode, Hird and Fanara dive underwater and observe some sharks behaving strangely. They see a hammerhead shark, a shy species, lunge at them and swim crookedly. He also sees a sandbar shark swimming in tight circles as if fixated on something invisible, 60 feet below the surface. They then test how the sharks react to packages that look like packages of cocaine.
They place fake packages near the swan dummies and watch as the sharks ignore the swans and nibble on the packages. One shark even swims away with a package. Hird and Fanara then try to mimic the effects of cocaine by using a ball of fish powder that is highly concentrated to induce a huge dopamine response in the sharks.
The sharks have gone crazy
They observe several species of sharks rushing towards the fakes. He says “I think we have a potential scenario of what it might look like if you gave cocaine to sharks,” Hird says on the show. “We gave them what I think is the next best thing.” [It] fired [their] brains. It was crazy.” They end up dropping fake packages of cocaine from the plane to simulate how drug smugglers might dispose of them in the ocean.
Hird said their experiments do not prove that cocaine-addicted sharks live in Florida, we have no idea what [cocaine] could do to a shark, fish can react differently to the same chemical. “So we can’t even very well say this is the baseline and go from there”.
More research would be needed and there could be many environmental factors that could explain shark behavior.