Scientists say cocaine dumped off Florida coast could affect sharks' behavior

In a recent discovery that has grabbed attention, scientists are investigating whether sharks off the coast of Florida are consuming drugs that have been dumped into the ocean. The upcoming episode of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, titled "Cocaine Sharks," aims to shed light on this theory.

Dr. Tracy Fanara, an environmental engineer and lead member of the research team, explains that the catchy title is meant to draw attention to a real problem. She emphasizes that everything we use and put into our bodies eventually ends up in our water systems, which in turn exposes aquatic life to these substances. Previous studies have shown that pharmaceuticals, including cocaine, methamphetamines, and ketamine, have affected fish.

For decades, large bales of cocaine have been washing up on Florida's beaches, often discarded by traffickers trying to evade law enforcement. The US Coast Guard recently recovered over $186 million worth of illegal narcotics in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Dr. Fanara points out that if these cocaine bales are a point source of pollution, it is plausible that sharks could be affected by the chemicals. Cocaine is highly soluble, and even a small opening in a package can release the drug into the water.

In the upcoming Shark Week episode, Dr. Fanara and British marine biologist Tom Hird conduct experiments to determine if the sharks in Florida's waters are consuming the dumped narcotics and how this might affect them. The scientists observed unusual behavior from some of the sharks, such as a hammerhead swimming erratically towards humans, which is atypical for the species. Additionally, a sandbar shark was seen fixating on an imaginary object, despite nothing being present.

To further investigate, the researchers created packages resembling cocaine bales and dropped them into the water. The sharks immediately swam towards the packages and took bites out of them. They also used concentrated fish powder in bait balls to simulate the effects of cocaine on the animals, which appeared to excite their brains.

It is important to note that these observations do not definitively prove that the sharks are consuming drugs. However, the scientists hope that this research will spark further exploration into the topic. The upcoming Shark Week episode aims to raise awareness about the potential impact of human activities on marine life and the need for further investigation in this area.


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