(NewsNation) — Scientists are researching sharks off Florida’s coasts that are feasting on cocaine bales dumped by drug smugglers, according to marine biologists.
In a new documentary for Discovery’s Shark Week, viewers will get to see rare sharks off the coast of South Africa, examine deadly shark attacks off the posh beaches of Egypt’s Red Sea and investigate whether sharks in Florida waters are getting high on cocaine.
“Cocaine Sharks,” which premieres Wednesday, examines whether the occasional bundles of cocaine abandoned by drug smugglers affect shark behavior.
”I’m basically looking for something really weird and out of the ordinary,” said Tom Hird, the lead scientist in the program.
Hird and his team dove into the Florida Keys, where fishermen have reportedly told tales about drug-addicted fish.
“It’s not maybe a daily occurrence, but certainly a weekly, nay monthly occurrence that these bales wash up, and those are just the ones that wash up. What about the ones that stay out in the ocean?” Hird said Friday on “On Balance with Leland Vittert.”
The team encountered a hammerhead shark and noticed it behaving strangely. The shark, a species that usually shy away from humans, darted right at them and appeared to be swimming at a lopsided angle.
“Our bubbles usually scare hammers off, so coming up on us is unusual behavior,” Hird said.
The team also conducted a series of experiments on sharks to see how they would react to packages they create to resemble real cocaine bales and dropped in the water.
Then, they saw the sharks head straight for the packages and take bites from them. One shark even grabbed a package and swam off with it, according to the documentary first reported by Live Science.
“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 said they don’t have any way to tell how sharks would behave if they had indeed ingested cocaine because marine life reacts differently to the chemical.
“We could either have a shark that is absolutely buzzed off its chopped reaching for the lasers and spinning around the place doing 360s until the sun comes up, or the entire opposite may happen and we could find that the sharks are actually numbed by the cocaine,” Hird told NewsNation. “We just don’t have enough study.”
The researchers will also be looking out for the possibility of a slow drip of pharmaceuticals like caffeine, lidocaine and antidepressants.
“Our coastal waters … are being slowly filled with the drugs we take,” Hird said. “While we have been looking for that kind of peak moment of ultimate shark synchronicity and the Tony Montana full Scarface, actually this low level of drug induction is happening in our coastal waters, and it’s something we need to consider.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.