The shark videos that have captivated the internet, prompted allegations of animal abuse and even shut down the local premiere party of an MTV reality show are now being investigated by the State Attorney's Office in Manatee County.
Andrew Van Sickle, with the county's animal abuse unit, said his agency is working alongside the Florida Fish Wildlife Conservation to see if anyone involved in the infamous videos and photos — including one that appears to show a shark being dragged to death behind a boat — can be charged.
Van Sickle, who was unavailable to speak with the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, told TV station WFLA that the photos circulating online, if proven to authentic, could "demonstrate several violations."
But whether the office will have enough evidence to charge anyone is still unclear, he said.
"... We are committed to conserving Florida's natural resources," Van Sickle said in a statement to the Times. "FWC law enforcement investigators and the State Attorney's Office are diligently working toward a swift and lawful resolution to this case."
Public outcry began after the video showing the shark being dragged went viral last month. Social media sleuths were quick to identify Michael Wenzel as a ring leader, prompting the boater to remove much of his presence on social media. Soon, a separate video surfaced that appears to show a new MTV reality show star — Siesta Key's Alex Kompothecras — shooting a hammerhead shark off the side of a boat.
Kompothecras is also the son of Dr. Gary Kompothecras, a Sarasota chiropractor known for his medical referral service 1-800-Ask-Gary. The TV star, whose show premiered last week, has since deleted the images off his account. He told People he "feels horrible" and would "never make those decisions again."
But that has done little hamper animal advocates' outcries. One online petition calling for Kompothecras to be "dropped" by MTV was approaching its goal of 44,000 signatures on Wednesday. Another online petition demanding charges against those who dragged the shark had just over 135,000 at the same time.
No agency has identified any of the people involved in the videos and no charges had been filed as of Wednesday.
"These investigations are complex, and both the FWC and the State Attorney's Office appreciate the public's understanding and patience," Van Sickle said in his statement. "We take these incidents seriously, and this investigation is moving forward."
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Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.