PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — A shark was found strung above a Ponte Vedra High School staircase early Thursday morning and now Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are investigating.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is investigating as well. A St. Johns County Schools representative said up to five Ponte Vedra High students are involved and no other schools were involved in the incident.
The school district said of the incident possibly being a prank, “This is typically the time of year that we see senior pranks taking place within our high schools.” Incidentally, the school’s mascot is a shark.
A maintenance manager found the animal, which officials said was dead before it was tied up, around 7 a.m. It was taken down by 8 a.m. before school starts at 9:20 a.m.
“To me, it’s disgusting for a shark to be hung up supposedly as a prank,” said Adam Sugalski, an animal rights activist and executive director of One Protest. “We don’t want to lose any more sharks than we have to. And just to see a shark being killed and hung up for a prank is saddening.”
Sugalski said worldwide, sharks are dying off because they are used for their fins. An expert said the shark in the picture closely resembled a bull shark, which can be harvested in Florida under strict guidelines.
It could violate wanton waste, Sugalski said. Under FWC regulations, “No one shall take, poison, store, buy, sell, possess, or wantonly or willfully waste wildlife, unless specifically permitted or authorized to do so.”
“They keep the ocean healthy and if the sharks go, a lot of other species will collapse,” Sugalski said.
He runs the website, shark-watch.org, which lists out the different sharks with prohibitions and how to spot them.
Christina H. Upchurch, chief of communications for the district, said, “This is a serious matter and if there are students involved it will equate to a level 4 discipline infraction in accordance with our student code of conduct ...”
According to the student code of conduct, Level 4 acts of misconduct are the highest level. Punishment for a Level 4 offense includes, but is not limited to:
- Mandatory out of school suspension of up to 10 days
- Parent Notification Required
- Referral for placement in the alternative school
- Referral to mental health services and/or receive mental health screening
- Referral to law enforcement
- Possible expulsion from the School District
- Loss of senior year privileges including graduation ceremony
- Evaluation of event by threat assessment team
Criminal charges are also possible. Upchurch said there is security footage that is being reviewed in the investigation. FWC could not answer any additional questions because it is an active investigation.
Sugalski has started a Change.org petition calling for “disciplinary action and criminal charges” be brought against the students involved.
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