Sharks on crack is now a thing, according to research

If sharks are not scary enough for you, research has highlighted a growing problem: they may have started consuming discarded narcotics packages.
Christopher McFadden
Sharks are now eating drugs, apparently.


In news that will undoubtedly worry galeophobes (people scared of sharks), they have now taken to consuming narcotics dumped in the sea. An issue highlighted in Discovery's Shark Week "Cocaine Sharks" show, scientists are now blowing the whistle on findings that sharks have taken a liking to chomp down on floating pharmaceuticals cast overboard by passing traffickers.

Sharks on drugs

The research, led by environmental engineer Dr. Tracy Fanara, was conducted over six days at sea in the Florida Keys with team members observing sharks exhibiting peculiar behaviors. “It’s a catchy headline to shed light on a real problem, that everything we use, everything we manufacture, everything we put into our bodies, ends up in our wastewater streams and natural water bodies, and these aquatic life we depend on to survive are then exposed to that,” explained Dr. Fanara to the Guardian.

“We’ve seen studies with pharmaceuticals, cocaine, methamphetamines, ketamine, all of these, where fish are being [affected] by drugs," she explained. “If these cocaine bales are a point source of pollution, it’s very plausible [sharks] can be affected by this chemical. Cocaine is so soluble that any of those packages open just a little, the structural integrity is destroyed, and the drug is in the water," she added.

During their study, the team observed that one shark species, a hammerhead (a species usually very wary of humans), came directly toward the divers while moving erratically. They also noticed a sandbar shark swimming in circles, seemingly fixating on an imaginary object, apparently hallucinating.

The researchers also conducted various experiments, such as dropping fake bales into the water, which attracted many sharks to take bites. They also used bait balls with concentrated fish powder to simulate the effects of cocaine. According to the researchers, this has a similar impact to catnip on cats and may "set the sharks' brains on fire," as British marine biologist Tom Hird puts it in the show.

According to Fanara, the Florida Keys was selected as the ideal research location due to the convergence of ocean currents, making it a common area for floating bundles of cocaine. Many drugs from South America are brought into the US through Florida, which serves as a major staging area. During pursuits by the authorities, drug traffickers often dispose of cocaine wrapped in plastic which can end up lost at sea or thrown overboard.

Discarded drug pollution

In the previous month, the US Coast Guard reported confiscating over $186 million of illegal drugs from the Caribbean and southern Florida waters. However, these seizures have minimal effect on an industry thriving at an all-time high.

The researchers do point out that it is impossible to determine the amount of cocaine being eaten by sharks accurately, however. Shortly, Fanara intends to collaborate with other marine scientists in Florida to extract blood samples from select sharks and assess their cocaine levels more definitively.

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