Scientists Probe the Possibility of 'Cocaine Sharks'

Investigation to air as part of Discovery's Shark Week
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 21, 2023 12:20 PM CDT
Scientists Probe the Possibility of 'Cocaine Sharks'
A member of the Coast Guard stands near seized cocaine Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Last month alone, the US Coast Guard seized more than 14,100 pounds of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. That's a lot of cocaine and suggests the drug, dumped by smugglers and picked up by currents, could make its way to marine life, including sharks. You've probably heard about "cocaine bear" or "cocaine cat"—animals that exhibited bizarre behavior after consuming the drug. While there's no evidence to suggest cocaine-fueled sharks are swimming off the US coast, marine biologist Tom Hird believes it's possible. And in Cocaine Sharks, to air as part of Discovery's Shark Week, he and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara swim with sharks off the Florida Keys to search for clues in their behavior.

As Live Science reports, a great hammerhead, a species usually quite shy toward humans, swims right at the divers. In a clip shared by Inside Edition, Hird notes the shark looks to be slightly tilted to one side, "almost like she's weighted down." The team also spotted a sandbar shark behaving strangely, swimming in tight circles as though fixated on something that isn't there. Hird and Fanara then bring out packages resembling cocaine bales. Sharks appear to go right for them, biting at them while ignoring dummy swans nearby. One shark even swims off with a package. Multiple shark species also congregate around packages dropped from a plane.

More research is needed to explain what's happening, per Fox News. Hird tells Live Science that he hopes to eventually take tissue and blood samples to see if cocaine is present in the bodies of sharks. But even if it's not, it's likely that legal and illegal drugs including "caffeine, lidocaine, cocaine, amphetamine, antidepressants, birth control," are slowly reaching the oceans and "starting to hit these animals," Hird says. While the team couldn't exactly give sharks cocaine to see how they reacted, they did offer up "the next best thing": highly concentrated fish powder, meant to trigger a dopamine rush. It "set [their] brains aflame," Hird says. "It was crazy." Cocaine Sharks airs Wednesday at 10pm. (More sharks stories.)

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