Success! Florida Men Charged With Animal Cruelty for Shark-Dragging Video

When animal lovers see cruelty showcased on social media, the perpetrators better watch out. Yes, animal abusers were caught once again, thanks in part to Care2 readers.

The world reacted with outrage and shock when a video of a shark being violently dragged behind a Florida speedboat first surfaced on the internet in July 2017. It showed the poor shark bouncing, flipping and twisting in the boat’s wake while those filming laughed and hooted.

Now facing criminal aggravated animal cruelty charges are Michael R. Wenzel, 21; Spencer B. Heintz, 23; and Robert L. Benac III, 28. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigation turned up some pretty unsavory things about these men.

If you’ve somehow never seen the video at the heart of this case, here it is. But be advised, it’s not fun to watch:

Interestingly, these jerks didn’t publicly post this video themselves. Rather, they send it via Instagram direct message to celebrity shark hunter Mark Quartiano, known as “Mark the Shark.” Apparently, because he kills sharks for a living, they thought Quartiano would love it. He didn’t.

“I couldn’t believe that someone would send me something like this,” he told The New York Times. “I was horrified.” Angered, Quartiano posted the video on his own Instagram for the world to see, telling everyone where it came from, and it went viral. Angry calls to FWC triggered the investigation that resulted in these charges.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office and the FWC announced these charges against Wenzel, Heintz and Benac:

Michael Wenzel of Palmetto, Florida

  • Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).
  • One misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take — Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Robert Lee Benac of Bradenton, Florida

  • Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).
  • One misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take — Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Spencer Heintz of Palmetto, Florida

  • Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).

During the four months preceding these charges, investigators examined the suspects’ social media activity and conducted numerous interviews. They also spoke with shark experts to try to determine if the shark on the video was likely alive or dead. What you may not know is that the abuse you see in this video isn’t the whole story.

The criminal affidavit filed in support of these charges reportedly indicates that Wenzel, Heintz and Benac shot a number of videos and photos while they were out on the water that documented multiple animal cruelty criminal violations.

Benac reportedly shot a blacknose shark with a spear gun, after which the three men taped themselves dancing on the bow of the boat. That same day, Benac reportedly caught the shark in the famous video. Wenzel reportedly shot the blacktip shark with a .38-caliber gun.

The affidavit states that Heintz shouted “Get it again, get it again!” Wenzel shot it again and the men pulled the shark from the water. Then they tied a line around its tail, pushed it back in and dragged it some more. Investigators believe the shark was still alive at this point. The affidavit says Wenzel’s voice can be heard saying, “I think it’s dead.”

By the end of this horrific event, according to The Washington Post, all that was left was a “mangled shark with its tail stripped of flesh like a soup bone.”

One of these men was apparently a prolific animal abuser according to The Miami New Times, and he posted evidence of such on Instagram. There are photos of the unnamed man with a variety of protected species he pulled from the water for photo ops. He even refers to himself as “#FWCsMostWanted.”  Clearly, the shark incident wasn’t an isolated occurance by any means.

Why did these men take such joy in hurting and killing these sharks? Why is this considered a good time by anyone?

If we’ve learned anything from this terrible situation, it’s that we should always speak up when someone attacks an innocent animal. The more voices raised in anger, the more likely it is that authorities will feel the need to act.

Hillsborough County, Florida, it’s now up to you. Please ensure these guys get an appropriate punishment for this alleged cruelty. If the evidence supports the charges, mete out a punishment that actually brings justice for the abused animals.

Send a strong, clear message that animal cruelty won’t be tolerated in Florida, whether on land or at sea.

Photo Credit: Charles Barilleaux/Flickr

126 comments

Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D29 days ago

Fact - Success in charging those horrid humans. Iffy - They will get the proper punishment to fit the crime. My Christmas Wish - They become prey to some very intimidating inmates in jail.

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Georgina M
Georgina Mabout a month ago

Justice exists!

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Kate K
Kate Kabout a month ago

Thank goodness they were stupid enough to send to a shark hunter (loathsome though he may be). I ma grateful this is being taken seriously although without the protest by people how care it may have.most likely would have just fallen through the cracks. I hope they get what they deserve (o they ever really?). Really I would say just put them behind a stink boat and them for a long ride.

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Julie D
Julie Dabout a month ago

So glad these people were found and caught and will have to face some kind of punishment for being so barbaric and cruel.

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a month ago

TYFS

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Marija M
Marija Mabout a month ago

Renata B. - I like your comment.

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Cathy B
Cathy Babout a month ago

I love it when justice is seen to be done. Thank you.

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Herbert C
Herbert Cabout a month ago

Let's hope they get the max on all charges though that isn't enough. Sadistic bastards!

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Rita Odessa
Rita Odessaabout a month ago

That makes me weep, I will never understand this level of unkindness. You don't have to like sharks, wasps or spiders but be a decent soul, live and let live. This mentality of killing for sport or fun, or due to fears just needs to stop. That poor being....

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Dot A
Dot Aabout a month ago

Yep, - it is so: Have a nice day means fu. Nice. It's not a mystery why we're in the mess we're in. If you care2 be caring, or caring to be having a nice day. I hope we'll learn better, but, don't see it evolving on this site either,... Even the bus ride home seems filled with such animosity. People disturbed if you smile at them, because we aren't supposed to interact face to face nowadays. Just keep the head down and keep plugging into the cyber-angry crowds,.... Like so much of what happens here,... But many do really CARE!, I believe~

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