The suspects, Michael R. Wenzel, 21; Spencer B. Heintz, 23; and Robert L. Benac III, 28, were the subjects of a four-month investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and state prosecutors after the video was widely seen online.
In addition to two counts each of aggravated animal cruelty — a third-degree felony — Wenzel and Benac were also charged with a misdemeanor alleging that they took a shark from state waters using unlawful methods.
The video was taken on June 26, but it didn’t go viral until a month later, when it was posted on Instagram by Mark Quartiano, who leads shark-fishing expeditions and is known as Mark the Shark.
He said he received the video on July 24 from the men who recorded it via direct message on Instagram. Quartiano shared the video via his own Instagram account that day. That post has been viewed more than 73,000 times.
“I couldn’t believe that someone would send me something like this,” he told The New York Times in July. “I was horrified.”
Multiple people sent complaints to the commission.
According to a criminal affidavit, Wenzel, Heintz and Benac recorded several videos — and also took photographs — during their expedition that revealed numerous criminal violations.
Prosecutors say that Benac initially shot a blacknose shark with a spear gun — which is illegal to do — while fishing near Egmont Key in Hillsborough County, Florida. The men then recorded themselves dancing on the bow of the boat, officials said.
Later that afternoon, Benac caught a blacktip shark, the same one seen in the video that was widely seen online. Wenzel shot it with a .38-caliber revolver, and the group celebrated once more, prosecutors said.
“Get it again, get it again,” Heintz yelled.
Wenzel shot at it again, the affidavit said; at that point, the shark was still alive.
In the video that was posted on Instagram, Benac recorded the blacktip shark being dragged by the boat, its body bouncing and skipping across the water. Another longer video, shot by Heintz, also showed the shark being dragged, the affidavit said, and the men laughed.
At the end of Heintz’s recording, Wenzel can be heard saying, “I think it’s dead.”
Efforts to reach the three men for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
They turned themselves in on Tuesday and were released on bond the same day.
A fourth man, who was also seen in the video and mentioned in the criminal affidavit, has not been charged.
“It is our hope these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated,” the commission chairman, Bo Rivard, said in a statement.