Fishing community outraged by apparent shark torturers

At least one of the men pictured in a brutal video depicting a shark being dragged by its tail behind a speeding boat has a history of posting troubling pictures of himself handling wildlife.

Florida wildlife officials investigating the video said Wednesday they have confirmed the identities of the men. They are not yet releasing their names while they look into the incident. But online commenters, who helped lead investigators to the group, singled out one as a Manatee County angler who in the past has repeatedly drawn protests for posting pictures of himself manhandling birds and fish.

In one, he dangles a spotted eagle ray from a rope. In another, he and friends grip a white pelican with its wings outstretched. Another post shows him holding two dead tarpon.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators looked into the posts but ultimately filed no charges before closing their case in January, said spokesman Rob Klepper.

It’s also not clear whether the latest video breaks any laws, he said. Investigators are still trying to identify the species of shark and location of the video. It is believed to have happened off Florida’s West Coast.

“We’re trying to let our investigators do their work, and we don’t like to get out in front of them,” he said. “And we really appreciate the public’s help. We had a huge amount of tips come into our hotline, and it was really helpful.”

The video triggered outrage in Florida’s fishing community Tuesday after its creators sent it to Capt. Mark Quartiano, the celebrity Miami shark hunter known as Mark the Shark. Quartiano reposted the video on Instagram, slamming its content, and notified state wildlife officials.

“I don’t know what they expected me to do. Laugh it off and say nice work? Oh no, that’s not me,” Quartiano said. “I’ve killed tens of thousands of sharks but not tortured them, not inhumanely and not disrespected them like that.”

A group of men who videotaped themselves dragging a shark behind a speeding boat sent Capt. Mark “Mark the Shark” Quartiano a picture of the shark taken after the dragging.

Quartiano’s post noted that he had received the video from two Instagram accounts, @bearjew428 and @MICHAELWENZEL. Wenzel and his family did not respond to calls from the Miami Herald. His Instagram account was shut down Wednesday.

WFTS, an ABC television affiliate in Tampa, spoke to someone who went to school with Wenzel.

“I was very saddened by it and hurt just because I know him, and it was hard to see someone that I know do something like that, especially to marine wildlife,” Sydney Thomas told the station.

In the video, the three men point and smile as the shark, tied by its tail, is dragged behind the speeding boat, twisting and flopping in the boat’s wake. Quartiano said the shark, about six or seven feet long, looked to be a blacktip. The men also sent a picture of the shark’s mangled body taken afterward.

After Quartiano notified investigators, they asked him to leave the post online, hoping to generate tips. Quartiano’s followers quickly identified one of the participants, who they said is well known among Florida’s west coast anglers for posting images of himself with dead fish.

Jenny Staletovich: 305-376-2109, @jenstaletovich