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Florida Cocaine Sharks Are Now a Thing

By Orgesta Tolaj


16 September 2023


© David Clode / Unsplash

Yes, this situation definitely only makes sense if you read Florida somewhere on the news. The title you just read may sound like an outrageous headline from a bizarre science fiction novel, but this peculiar phenomenon is far from fiction. In recent research conducted during a six-day expedition by the Discovery Channel, scientists have uncovered a disturbing reality off the coast of Florida.

It appears that sharks in these waters may be experiencing the effects of discarded narcotics.

What Is the Situation on Cocaine Sharks?

Scientists are issuing a warning about the potential impact of discarded drugs in the waters off the coast of Florida, particularly cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, and other hallucinogenic substances. These drugs are believed to have been thrown overboard by drug traffickers, contaminating the marine environment. Researchers, during a Discovery Channel research trip, observed unusual and erratic behavior in sharks, such as a typically calm hammerhead shark displaying aggression toward divers and a sandbar shark engaging in peculiar movements. This raises concerns about the effects of these drugs on other marine life in the area.

Why do Cocaine Sharks Exist?

The disposal of drugs into the ocean is a known issue, with the US Coast Guard recently confiscating $186 million worth of drugs from the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans. Florida is a significant entry point for drugs into the US. Scientists believe that sharks in the area may be affected by these drugs, particularly cocaine, which can easily dissolve into the water if the drug packages become compromised.

“Cocaine Sharks” is expected to be a highlight of Shark Week, the annual Discovery Network event showcasing various shark species. During their six-day research expedition in the ecologically sensitive Florida Keys, scientists observed unusual behavior in sharks, including a hammerhead approaching divers erratically and a sandbar shark circling an imaginary object.

How Do Drug Dumpings Affect Sharks?

They conducted experiments with dummy bales and bait laced with fish powder to mimic the effects of cocaine, leading to hyperactive responses in the sharks, similar to how catnip affects cats. The Florida Keys were chosen due to the convergence of ocean currents, making it a hotspot for floating cocaine packages. Florida’s role as a drug trafficking route from South America contributes to the presence of these substances in the ocean, often lost or discarded by traffickers trying to evade law enforcement.

Other Discoveries on Drugs on Animals

In 2016, a study discovered a staggering 81 different pharmaceutical substances in Puget Sound, located in Washington. This presents a significant concern, as our water supply is a finite resource that remains unchanged over time. As the water we use is recycled through wastewater treatment systems and eventually returns to our consumption, the presence of these drugs in water bodies raises alarm.

Furthermore, a 2021 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, revealed that methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, has profound effects on brown trout, causing addiction and altering their behavior. Exposure to this drug leads to changes in the fish’s movement patterns and can even result in withdrawal symptoms. These drugs find their way into bodies of water primarily through sewage that passes through wastewater treatment facilities.

shark underwater
© Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash

Unfortunately, wastewater treatment plants are ill-equipped to handle such contaminants. The study also underscores that various other emerging contaminants, including prescription medications and consumer chemicals, enter surface waters in a similar fashion, potentially affecting the physiology and behavior of aquatic organisms at relatively low concentrations.

What do you think about the situation? What steps do you think we should take to combat this issue, both on an individual and societal level? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!