Sharks off the coast of Florida could be consuming cocaine dropped in the ocean by drug smugglers, US researchers have found. That’s as the US Coast Guard claims to have seized as much as 6,400 kilograms (14,109 pounds) of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean over just the past month.
Researchers working on the Discovery Channel’s upcoming TV series ‘Cocaine Sharks’ told LiveScience on Thursday that they have found that some sharks have been behaving strangely in the area and ran a number of experiments on sharks off the Florida keys, where fishermen have reportedly come across drug-addicted fish.
Marine biologist Tom Hird, and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara claim that during one dive they saw a great hammerhead – a species that regularly avoids humans – charging straight at the team while swimming askew.
Another sandbar shark was observed continuously swimming in tight circles while apparently being fixated on something that wasn’t actually there.
The scientists also conducted a test where they put into the water a dummy swan next to a package of similar size and appearance to a real cocaine bale that would have been dropped into the ocean by drug smugglers.
To the researcher’s surprise, the sharks did not attack the swans and instead headed straight for the ‘cocaine bales’, trying to take bites from them. One shark even grabbed the whole bale and swam off with it.
The scientists also carried out an experiment where they made a bait ball out of highly concentrated fish powder, which triggered a dopamine rush in sharks similar to a hit of cocaine. When the animals ate the powder, researchers say they saw them go completely wild.
“I think we have got a potential scenario of what it may look like if you gave sharks cocaine,” Hird said. “We gave them what I think is the next best thing. [It] set [their] brains aflame. It was crazy.”
The team also dropped fake cocaine bales from an airplane to simulate a real-life drug drop and found that multiple shark species instantly moved in on the packages.
The biologists admitted, however, that their research has yet to prove that sharks are actually consuming cocaine, stating that “we have no idea what [cocaine] could do to the shark.” But, Hird expressed hope that the airing of the documentary series could lead to more research on the issue, as well as how other pharmaceuticals affect marine life.
Read more: Russian man eaten by shark in Egypt