(KTLA) – Animals hopped up on cocaine is not a new concept; the February film “Cocaine Bear” loosely chronicled the bizarre true story of when a 175-pound black bear ingested cocaine that was thrown out of a drug smuggling plane in 1985.
However, with Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” right around the corner, scientists are now probing the possible consequences of sharks ingesting cocaine dumped in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Cocaine Sharks,” which premieres Wednesday, takes viewers on a hunt for evidence supporting tales of sharks gobbling up cocaine bales. ”I’m basically looking for something really weird and out of the ordinary,” says the lead scientist, Tom Hird, in the program.
“The deeper story here is the way that chemicals, pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs are entering our waterways — entering our oceans — and what effect that they then could go on to have on these delicate ocean ecosystems,” Hird told Live Science.
Hird and University of Florida environmental scientist Tracy Fanara set up several experiments after they said they noticed sharks acting strangely – a hammerhead that should have shied away from them swimming off-kilter, directly at them, and a sandbar shark swimming tight circles while appearing to fixate on a non-existent object.
Hird and Fanara told Live Science they used faux cocaine bales and fake swans in one experiment and were surprised to see the sharks appear to choose the bales over the swan, with one shark even swimming away with a package.
In another experiment we see how fish powder mimics the dopamine response that cocaine might give to junkie sharks.
“I think we have got a potential scenario of what it may look like if you gave sharks cocaine,” Hird said in the film, according to Live Science. “We gave them what I think is the next best thing. [It] set [their] brains aflame. It was crazy.”
Cocaine has washed up on Florida beaches and been found floating in coastal waters for decades. In May, a snorkeler on the Atlantic side of Key Largo found a brick of cocaine. In April, a beachgoer stumbled across 20 bricks that had washed up on Vero Beach. In June of 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard dropped off 5,237 pounds of cocaine collected by crews working in the Caribbean sea. The drugs were estimated to be with more than $99 million.
The episode airs on Discovery Channel Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.