The man sits patiently on the deck of a boat, as if waiting for a cue. Pounding pop music that sounds vaguely like the foreboding “Jaws” theme song plays loudly in the background.
Suddenly, a child starts singing and at that exact moment, the man ducks his head down toward the object resting on his knees — a small shark that appears to be dead with two short pipes protruding from its body.
“Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo,” the child sings, as the man brings a lighter to the pipe jutting out of shark’s head, inhaling deeply from the other one located behind its dorsal fin.
Looking up, the man releases a billowing cloud of smoke, his head bobbing in time with the catchy rhythm of the hit children’s song “Baby Shark.” A grin slowly spreads across his boyish features.
The 25-second clip, which was shared Sunday to an Australian Facebook page called Fried Fishing, has since gone viral, drawing such fierce backlash that the human subject of the video, only identified as Billy, announced Monday that he was leaving social media for mental health reasons.
“I never thought id have to do this but today has become too much,” a statement posted to Facebook read. The post said that the page, which has more than 25,000 followers and describes itself as “Fried fishing, stupid s—, banter about other fishermen,” had been flooded with “abusive messages,” including death threats.
The group also said the volume of complaints over what has been described as a “shark bong” even led to a visit from police, news.com.au reported. A spokesperson from the New South Wales Police Department told The Washington Post that the incident is not currently under investigation. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, which oversees fishing, did not respond to a request for comment early Tuesday.
A person associated with the Fried Fishing page told The Post via Facebook Messenger that the man in the video “is no longer able to comment,” adding, “no one can contact him at the time being.”
The video, which had been watched more than 108,000 times before being taken down late Monday night, was swiftly condemned by marine biologists, conservation groups, animal rights organizations and social media users, many slamming it as “sickening” and “disgusting.” A second video on the same page that showed another man smoking out of a dead fish was also deleted.
Warning: Graphic content.
Melissa Cristina Márquez, a marine biologist who has studied sharks for years, told The Post in a phone interview she was “disappointed” by the video.
“It’s one of those moments that you kind of step back and you’re like, ‘Really?’” said Márquez, founder of the Fins United Initiative, an education and conservation program dedicated to sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras. “Sure, a fisherman has the right to do whatever they want with their catch, but I feel like that just was an indecent thing to do and it just wasn’t respecting the animal.”
Márquez said she believes that the dead shark is a young bull shark, noting that the species is commonly found in Australian waters and it is not illegal to catch them. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List classifies bull sharks as near threatened.
“It’s sadly one of those things where it’s wrong, but it’s not illegal,” she said.
Making the dead shark “look like a toy,” Márquez said, “really devalues the animal.”
This isn’t the first time a shark has been turned into something more likely found in a fraternity house. In June 2017, WFTX reported that a video had surfaced showing a group of people in Florida pouring beer into the gills of a hammerhead shark that was near death. The video was shared on social media with the caption “Who needs a beer bong?,” prompting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to launch an investigation, WSVN reported.
“It was an animal,” Márquez said of the shark used for smoking. “It was an important part of an ecosystem. To see it disrespected, really does hurt a lot of us in the heart. It gets you right in the gut.”
In an emailed statement to The Post, Humane Society International in Australia decried the video, highlighting the area’s declining shark populations, which have “fallen by up to 90%, after extreme pressure from overfishing and culling programs.”
“It’s appalling to see such a blatant disregard for Australian wildlife by this fisherman,” said Nicola Beynon, the society’s head of campaigns. “These animals need all the help they can get to turn around their situation in Australian waters, and the last thing they need is to be degraded for a cheap attempt at social media notoriety. “
The fisherman’s actions even caught the attention of Justin Field, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, who called the video and the Fried Fishing Facebook page “gross.”
Other posts on the page include videos of a man purposely injuring himself with live marine critters, as in one post where he lets a fish bite his nipple.
“How a page like this accumulates thousands of followers is a bit beyond me but it doesn’t surprise me from what I have seen from some recreational fishers,” Field wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.
But Field also denounced the use of “online abuse and threats,” writing, “It doesn’t change anyone’s mind and even if the page doesn’t continue I am sure the contributors will continue their ‘fun’.”
In the caption of the deleted shark video, Fried Fishing defended themselves against the backlash, calling out the media for “running false stories.”
“The shark was caught by my mate fishing when we were fishing for mangrove jacks on Friday,” the post said. “After two nights left in the ice box i came up with the idea, There is no possible way it was alive.”
The statement went on to clarify that the person in the video was smoking tobacco and not marijuana, which is an illicit drug in Australia.
Social media users, however, did not appear satisfied by the explanation.
“Anyone who thinks this is funny needs to grow up,” read one comment on the video. “Dead or not, it’s just not funny.”
Others, a number of whom appeared to be fans of the page and its content, stood up for the video’s creators.
“The shark is dead though, i dont get why it offends people so much,” one person commented.
“Can’t have a joke about anything anymore,” another complained.
In response to the post announcing the social media hiatus, commenters mourned the decision with several begging the man not to leave.
“That’s a shame Billy… I loved seeing your posts,” a person wrote. “I hope you return bigger and better.”
One commenter suggested a final video idea: “Light one up through a stingray.”
While viral videos have the potential to incite copycats, Márquez said she hopes the reaction to the shark’s treatment will deter anyone from trying something similar.
“I really hope that people see the video, see the backlash and think twice about how they interact with wildlife even after its death because you know what, every animal deserves some respect,” she said.
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