The group of cackling sadists that dragged a live shark at high speed behind a boat — and then shared the video — might soon be seeing their own police mug shots all over social media.
It would be the least of their problems.
Florida wildlife officials say they’ve identified the men, but haven’t released the names pending further investigation. But lots of people immediately recognized these knuckle-draggers, since they didn’t bother to hide their giddy faces.
The boat driver is Michael Wenzel, who has an ugly history of harassing wildlife and posting the images on Instagram. One photo features the Manatee County man and some pals roughing up a white pelican. (Wildlife agents investigated, but didn’t charge anyone).
In another published picture, Wenzel is holding what he claims is a dead dog that he intends to use for shark bait. Still another photo shows him illegally hoisting a tarpon with his fist through its gills, with the mocking caption, “#FWCsMostWanted.”
FWC is the abbreviation for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state agency that is poised to change this clown’s life. Feeling the heat, last week he closed his Instagram account.
Too late, bubba. You’re now being mentioned in the same breath as the Minnesota dentist who shot that collared lion in Africa.
Obviously the craving for attention on social media inspires lots of awful behavior. For reasons a psychiatrist can best explain, abusing animals seems a favored frolic for those grappling with issues of stunted masculinity.
Earlier this month, a deputy patrolling Little Torch Key pulled over a Hyundai Sonata and found three bloodied Key deer, an endangered species protected by state and federal laws.
Two live does were crammed in the back seat, and an injured buck was inside the trunk. All the animals had been hog-tied with twine. Arrested on the scene were 18-year-old Erik Damas Acosta of Miami Gardens and Tumani Younge, age 23.
The police report said Damas Acosta told Deputy Austin Hopp that he “lured the Key deer close with pieces of bread, grabbed them, bound their feet with ropes and put them in his car.” According to the deputy, Damas Acosta said he snatched the three deer because he wanted to take photographs with the animals.
If that’s the truth — and not just a convenient story to cover up a poaching operation — the case is another sick example of brutalizing wildlife for entertainment.
The thirst to shock and share has become a drug for the shallow and soulless. There is no more ghastly example than the Cocoa teenagers who recently took cellphone video of a disabled man drowning, laughed, and did nothing to save him. None of them even called 911.
While social media offers a global stage for dysfunctional excess, it also provides a service by instantly exposing remote acts of horrors, and the defectives who brag about them.
READ MORE: “Outrage over shark-dragging video deepens as new pictures surface”
The shark-torturing episode received widespread attention because Wenzel evidently sent the video and a photo of the shredded corpse to Capt. Mark “the Shark” Quartiano , in the pathetic hope of impressing the well-known and controversial shark fisherman.
But even Quartiano, who has let die thousands of caught sharks, was mortified by the cruelty show in the clip. He posted it along with the name of the sender, writing, “FOR ONCE I MAY HAVE TO AGREE WITH @PETA. #WHODOESTHISS–T #sowrong #notcool.”
And thus the shark draggers learned the risk of broadcasting their own cold-blooded stupidity. It backfired big-time.
Even with graphic video a criminal case isn’t a lock, but the FWC faces heavy pressure to file charges. A televised jury trial is the last thing these particular suspects want, so plea bargaining will commence if they get arrested, followed by the standard abject apologies.
They might not go to jail, but there would be hefty fines — and hefty legal bills.
Yet that’s hardly the worst of what lays ahead, especially for Wenzel, the guy who posed gloating with the struggling pelican and the shark-bait dog. His name is already available on all the social platforms he loves so much.
Scorn will be raining down not just on him but on his friends, family and employer. Sure, he can try to hide — shut down his Facebook and Twitter accounts, change the name of his boat, pack up and move to a new town — but, dude, it’s the friggin’ internet.
Once you’re a Google item, you’re out there for eternity.
And you did want to be famous, right?