A Florida man has pleaded guilty to dragging a live shark behind his speedboat before shooting it in the head with a handgun.
Disturbing footage from 2017 shows the shark being dragged at high speeds behind the boas, rope tied around its fin.
22-year-old Michael Wenzel had captained the boat, and was also the individual who shot the black tip shark in the head in the waters of Tampa Bay.
Commercial fisherman Wenzel, and others on the boat, could be heard laughing as the shark was dragged along, laughing again as the animal bled out. One of the boat mates could be heard saying, ‘get it again’.
The cruel footage was later posted to Facebook, where it was widely circulated, leaving animal rights advocates horrified.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Wenzel appeared at the Hillsborough County Courthouse on Thursday, February 28, where he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges as well as to using an illegal method to catch a shark.
As part of his plea deal, Wenzel has been given a 10 day prison sentence at Hillsborough County Jail, which may be served at weekends. He was also given 11 months probation, and was told he must serve 100 hours worth of community service.
A prosecutor asked that half of Wenzel’s community service be spent at either an animal shelter or animal abuse facility. However, it’s unclear how many such places would let a convicted animal abuser volunteer with animals.
Wenzel’s saltwater fishing licence has also been revoked for a period of five years.
Alert: shark dragging defendant Michael Wenzel pleads guilty to reduced charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty Gets 10 days in jail and probation. Second defendant Robert Benac passed on deal will go to trial in June
— Gloria Gomez, FOX 13 (@ggome13) February 28, 2019
Wenzel reportedly smiled during the trial, when Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe asked if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, leading Judge Wolde to inquire ‘Is there something funny about this?’ Wenzel responded to this by saying, ‘No, sir’.
A member of Florida for Animals who had been present in the courtroom, Marie Galbraith, described Wenzel as ‘a privileged kid’, stating, ‘this [sentence] is a slap on the wrist’.
Wenzel’s attorney, Charles Britt, has called the sentence fair on account of a shark expert asserting the shark was already dead in the video:
I have the distinct impression that anything other than a long-term prison sentence wouldn’t make these animal activists happy.
— Bobby Wilkins (@BobbyWilkins352) July 25, 2017
A second man charged in the case, Robert Benac, reportedly rejected a similar plea deal on Thursday and is set for trial later in 2019. Charges against a third man, Spencer Heintz, have previously been dropped.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.