CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- “There’s pictures of beer poured into Goliath Grouper, video of beer poured in a hammerhead’s gills until it dies … this is ongoing situation likely started prior to 2015,” says Tom McLaughlin.
In 2015, McLaughlin, a conservationist who started Save The Tarpon, first learned about one of the men believed to be seen in a video on a speeding boat seen dragging a shark.
10News is not naming the man because formal charges have not been filed against him.
McLaughlin said he saw a photo of the man with two tarpons. ‘When (it was) posted there was no possession, no harvest of the species.”
He started digging deeper and found other disturbing photos with other protected species too -- a white pelican being held by the beak with its neck stretched out and by its wings.
“The picture of them posing with it (was) for shock value on social media,” says McLaughlin.
The man is also seen holding brown pelicans and spotted eagle rays.
“You’re not supposed to take them out of the water, handle them harm or kill them,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin turned the photos over to FWC to investigate.
“At some point, rather than looking at each photo individually as one infraction, looking at the sum total of what’s going on results in animal cruelty,” he said
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials closed the case related to those photos in January and did not file any charges. McLaughlin believes there were clear violations, but proving where it happened stood in the way.
“One of their defense when dealing crimes on the water is a lot stuff took place in federal waters outside FWC jurisdiction,” explains McLaughlin.
McLaughlin blames the man’s parents for enabling the behavior.
“We were contacted by the father of one of these guys to take the photo down and not direct attention to him, He's just a kid who made a mistake (and will never) do it again. Here we are, two years later.”
What is McLaughlin’s message to FWC?
“They need to take action need to take action immediately. At this point they have a enough evidence on a whole to establish a pattern possibly rises to a higher level of crime.”
FWC’s investigation continues. While investigators say they have identified the men on the boat, they have not released their names, pressed charges nor arrested anyone.
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