A 2015 investigation into photos of men handling protected birds, and who are linked to the recent viral shark-dragging video, was dropped for lack of evidence despite having multiple photos.
The final report on the 2015 case includes the pictures, which are widely posted to social media, of people handling protected birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
According to the investigation released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today, there were seven violations of the treaty.
The men in the photos are not identified in the report, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not identifying the people involved in the shark-dragging video, which it is investigating.
However, the men have been widely identified on social media.
The 2015 investigation was opened after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received numerous complaints about Instagram and Twitter photos that showed people manhandling birds, including a brown pelican, cormorant and white pelican.
The FWC and USFWS agreed to work together on the investigation.
In September 2015, agents tried to interview one of the men in the photos but he “immediately invoked his right to an attorney.”
In interviews with acquaintances and friends, one told wildlife officials that he had been with the man under investigation when he caught a protected spotted eagle ray and used a spear gun to kill it. The ray had a “hole, with blood, around the head area.”
“The spotted eagle ray was loaded into the back of (redacted) truck and taken to (redacted) house,” the investigation says. “(Redacted) said that (redacted) chopped off the wings of the spotted eagle ray,” and was going to put them in his freezer. There are no photos of the eagle ray in the investigation, but images have been posted on social media.
After five months, the service recommended the case be closed because although there were photos of the violations with the men identified in them, investigators “could not establish a venue or time frame” for when the photos were taken.
This created a possible issue with the statute of limitations, according to the report.
Also, the main people in the photos “invoked their rights to have an attorney,” and were not interviewed.
The shark-dragging video made international headlines last month after the men sent it to Miami charter captain Mark Quartiano, who called it “sick” and posted it to his Instagram page.
It has prompted a Change.org petition demanding the men in the video be held accountable.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott also weighed in on the video.
On Friday, Scott wrote a letter to FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski calling the video “incredibly disturbing.”
“The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening and I am sure that you share in my outrage over these individuals’ heinous actions,” Scott wrote.
Yablonski responded: “Each and every member of our agency is disgusted by the behavior shown in the video. FWC Division of Law Enforcement investigators are working diligently to come to a lawful resolution in this case.”