JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — WARNING: This story contains graphic images that could be disturbing to some.
A dead shark was found hanging from the ceiling at a St. Johns County school on Thursday morning.
Students posted photos of the gutted shark hanging from the rafters of Ponte Vedra High School on Snapchat. The incident was reportedly a senior prank.
First Coast News spoke with a junior at the school who said, "There's been a lot of people that are like, you know, upset and I guess uncomfortable about the idea that like there's a shark that's hung up."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says around 9 p.m. Wednesday, a group of five high school students at Ponte Vedra High School hung a gutted shark on the rafters of the school courtyard.
FWC says it learned the shark was harvested Tuesday night, gutted, and stored in a freezer prior to being hung.
Ponte Vedra High School staff disposed of the carcass prior to FWC notification, the organization says.
Photos have been sent to FWC marine fisheries biologists to identify the species of shark. FWC officers are investigating and conducting interviews.
University of North Florida Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jim Gelsleichter believes it could be a sandbar shark, which are protected in Florida.
"That is a prohibitive species in Florida, and so we are not able to land those particular species and that's really because the sandbar, their populations have been pretty depleted over the past several decades from over fishing," he explained to First Coast News. "So, they have a special protection."
One student said the dead shark made several students uncomfortable.
"Some people think it's funny. I’m not sure why, I don’t think its funny," he said.
There were rumors around school that the shark was pregnant, according to the student.
The animal was removed around 8 a.m. Thursday by custodians, according to St. Johns County Schools.
The school is investigating the incident.
Dr. Gelsleichter says the students may not have known sandbar sharks are a protected species, and says it's a good reminder to become familiar with the laws and regulations of marine life.
"I think it's pretty common for people to overlook the fact that there are these prohibitive species that occur in Florida waters and maybe think that something like this might be something that might actually face repercussions for."
A spokesperson for St. Johns County Schools says this offense is considered a 'level 4,' which means discipline could include:
- 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