Suspects in a Florida shark-dragging video also have posted other online fishing videos. This compilation from the clips shows anglers firing weapons at sharks.
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“There are clearly a group of anglers who know it’s illegal,” said David Shiffman, a former University of Miami shark researcher and fellow at Simon Fraser University who this week published a study in the journal Fisheries Research about online posts by land-based shark anglers.

“People knew the activity was illegal and actively discussed ways to avoid getting caught,” he said of the hundreds of posts he studied. “But Cecil the lion was a turning point...and we may start to see a turning point here.”

Over the last few decades, the fishing ethos has largely evolved to catch and release. Fishing tournaments that once called for anglers to haul in dead fish for weighing and measuring now largely rely on photographs and the honor system. Fishing regulations have followed suit, with increased protections for gamefish.

A viral video of a shark being dragged behind a boat has drawn the attention of Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission investigators. The video was shared by local fisherman Mark “The Shark” Quartiano on his Instagram account after Quartiano was ale

But among this Jackass subset, killing — the coarser the picture the better — remains a practice, increasingly drawing the attention of law enforcement.

In 2006, Florida wildlife managers, who are now investigating the men linked to the video, created a unit devoted to crimes popping up online and expanded it in 2009. Despite a spike in cases, the unit is still small — just one state supervisor oversees 14 investigators across six different regions pursuing internet crimes along with their regular cases.

The agency doesn’t track the number of cases that come into the unit, or how they’re resolved, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Rob Klepper. But previous stings, dubbed Operation Wild Web, highlight the difficulty in chasing internet crimes, he said.

In four different stings in recent years around the state, staged over three to four days, the agency launched a total of 550 investigations, he said. Only 280 resulted in citations or warnings.

“As you can see, the number of investigations initiated by suspicious online activity is close to double the number of cases that officers find sufficient evidence to move forward with,” he said in an email.

Part of the difficulty is finding them. The shark-dragging video only came to light after local shark hunter Mark the Shark Quartiano, often condemned by conservationists for catching and killing sharks rather than releasing them, got messaged a copy by its creators, Michael Wenzel and Robert Lee “Bo” Benac, and posted it.

“I guess they initially sent it to me thinking it was going to be funny. They wanted my reaction or my blessing, which kind of backfired on them,” he said.

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