The deadly predators have apparently been exhibiting ‘erratic, peculiar behaviours’
Sharks around the coast of Florida may be off their face on cocaine, scientists warn. The discovery, which was part of a six-day research trip for Discovery Channel, found that discarded floating pharmaceuticals – including coke, meth, ket and other hallucinatory drugs – are likely to have been cast overboard by passing traffickers, contaminating the water.
Concerned by how this was affecting local wildlife, scientists headed to the area, only to notice sharks reportedly exhibiting “erratic” and “peculiar” behaviour. This included sightings of a hammerhead – which is typically quite a chill, antisocial creature – aggressively starting on local divers, and a sandbar shark mournfully rotating around an imaginary object. There are concerns that other, less deadly fish may also be having their own haunted little trips.
The full findings are set to be shown on Discovery’s upcoming Shark Week, in the new series titled Cocaine Sharks. “It’s a catchy headline to shed light on a real problem,” Dr Tracy Fanara, a Florida-based environmental engineer and lead member of the Cocaine Sharks research team, told The Guardian. “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.”
The fact that drugs are being dumped into the ocean is nothing we don’t already know: earlier this year, the US Coast Guard retrieved $186 million of drugs from the Caribbean and the Atlantic oceans, and Florida is one of the major entry points for drugs into the US. “If these cocaine bales are a point source of pollution, it’s very plausible [sharks] can be affected by this chemical,” continued Fanara. “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.”
There have been other studies about the effects of drugs on animals: one, conducted in 2021, found that some brown trout were becoming addicted to meth, after the substance had illegally been dumped in European waterways. In Britain, there were reports in 2018 that high, “hyperactive” eels were under existential threat after consuming too much second-hand cocaine. And of course, there’s cocaine bear (RIP).
So what does a coked-up shark actually look like? Unfortunately, it’s unethical to formally get them a bag in, even in the name of science, so no one has ever been able to monitor how their behaviour might develop. But Fanara did drop a fake cocaine bale into the ocean to see how they’d react. Needless to say, they were loving it – with at least one grabbing the whole thing and swimming off with it. Quite funny! But also profoundly disturbing. “This is a real issue and we’re not making any new water,” Fanara said. “The same water we'll have 1,000 years from now is the same water we had 1,000 years ago.”
She added: “It’s like a game of Jenga where we’re at the top... We’re in the sixth mass extinction and the more chemicals we introduce, the more radical changes we introduce, the more precarious it gets. These animals are leaving one by one and the integrity of the tower is depleting, even if we might not feel it right now. At some point, the tower’s going to fall.”