High school officials in Florida were shocked to find a full-sized dead shark hanging from their building’s rafters late last week. In what’s being described as a bizarre senior prank, educators at Ponte Vedra High School reportedly found and removed the carcass last Thursday. The school told local media that it identified at least five students directly involved with the prank, Insider reported.
Pictures of the prank went viral after stunned students shared them across all social media platforms. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that students hung the dead animal as a school prank, given that the school’s mascot is a shark.
The school district also consulted security footage of the students raising the shark into the rafters before making their determination. Authorities said that the security footage would remain private given the age of the students and nature of the incident. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said its bureau would also investigate the incident.
The St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is leading the investigation.
An angry animal rights group has already launched an online petition to bring criminal charges against the students involved. The advocacy group, called One Protest, called this case “particularly egregious.”
The high school students could face serious charges if investigators determine the shark a protected species
“As an animal advocacy organization, we regularly see and hear about execrable crimes carried out upon wildlife. This case is particularly egregious,” the petition’s statement reads. “We are dealing with high school seniors who have a blatant disregard for life and find killing, mutilating, and displaying the body of an animal as ‘funny’ or a ‘prank.'” Currently, the group has collected less than 2,000 signatures.
“We must uphold the laws put in place to protect wildlife and hold those who break the law accountable for their actions,” the statement continued.
At least one Ponte Vedra High School student went on-record agreeing with the severity of the accusations.
“It’s kind of gruesome. I’ll be honest. That’s a pretty big shark too,” Julian Chandlee told local media. “It’s in the main courtyard. There are some steps that go up to the main hall, and that’s right over the steps. So it’s in a pretty major spot.”
University of North Florida professor of biology Jim Gelsleichter said the dead animal could be a sandbar shark. Outdoorsmen cannot recreationally and commercially harvest sandbar sharks in Florida.
Possible charges include trespassing, wildlife violations, and criminal mischief, a local lawyer said.
Adam Suglaski, executive director of One Protest, called the prank “upsetting.”
“They could have caught [the shark] legally, or they could have purchased it from fishermen off the dock,” Suglaski said. “Regardless of what species of shark it is, it’s still upsetting to see that animal just being used as a prank.”