ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A dead shark was found hanging from the rafters above a staircase at Ponte Vedra High School on Thursday morning, according to the St. Johns County School District.
The school district told News 6 partner WJXT-TV the discovery was made at about 8 a.m. and that the shark was cut down and removed. Since then, according to school officials, five Ponte Vedra High students have been identified by investigators as having hoisted the shark at the school on Davis Park Road.
The district also said it has turned over surveillance video of the shark being hung up to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. As it is evidence in a criminal investigation, it will not be released.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner on the way to the school confirmed they are investigating.
Several people emailed photos to News4JAX of the shark that appeared to be circulating on social media, mainly on Snapchat. In the photos, the shark -- which is the school’s mascot -- looks gutted.
“It’s kind of gruesome. I’ll be honest. That’s a pretty big shark too,” said Julian Chandlee, a Ponte Vedra High junior. “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.”
Students told News4JAX and shared on social media that it was a senior prank.
Cooper Gottfried, a Ponte Vedra High sophomore, said he couldn’t believe it.
“I was going to first period, and there was this massive shark hanging from the ceiling, and it smelled really bad,” Gottfried said. “I was really shocked. I just didn’t expect to see that in the morning.”
News4JAX showed the photos to Jim Gelsleichter, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and director of the Coastal and Marine Biology Flagship Program at the University of North Florida.
“My gosh, the first reaction was, ‘How’d you get that up there?’” Gelsleichter said. “Those sharks are very heavy.”
He said that the positioning of the shark makes it difficult to confirm from images alone, but that it looks like it could be a sandbar shark.
According to FWC, sandbar sharks are prohibited from recreational and commercial harvest in Florida state waters.
According to a local lawyer, whoever is responsible could face charges of trespassing, wildlife violations and criminal mischief.
The sheriff’s office confirmed the incident is believed to be a school prank and that FWC is leading the investigation.