So, this is not your typical summer shark story.
There is no ominous background music building to a near-thunderous crescendo as a shark the size of a small apartment building closes in on an unsuspecting swimmer. And this won’t be about tracking the “pings” of a device attached to a shark to discover its patterns as it makes its way up and down the eastern seaboard. Heck, this isn’t even about a mini-shark making its way on to a surf-fishing rig and causing some poor beachgoer to spill his or her beer.
No, today’s story is about Miss Helen, some in-depth surveillance, her ride in a shopping cart and her subsequent journey home.
A little over a month ago, according to the San Antonio Aquarium, via Smithsonian.com, an individual showed up at the aquarium posing as an employee of the aquarium’s salt supplier. The man reportedly said that the supplier he worked for had sent out some bad batches of salt, and he had to test all the tanks at the aquarium to make sure they were safe.
“We believe that the root of his plan was to get a behind-the-scenes look so he could figure out what to steal and the best way to do it,” according to a statement from the aquarium.
Here is where I need to confess that any statement that includes “the root of his plan” gets my attention. It’s right up there with, “I don’t know how that got up there,” and, “Hey, watch this.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for the classics, and...
But I digress.
About a month later, on Saturday, July 28, two men and a woman reportedly walked out of the aquarium, pushing a baby stroller. Not uncommon, right? Well, in that baby stroller, according to authorities, was Miss Helen, a 16-inch long horn shark that resided in a tide pool exhibit at the aquarium where visitors are permitted to touch marine creatures held in open tanks.
Surveillance cameras show one of the men scooping Miss Helen out of the tank before rushing out of the camera’s view, followed by the other man. A woman is shown pacing near a stroller. A few moments later, the men returned and placed something under the stroller and the three then left.
One observant employee was apparently suspicious of the group’s erratic behavior and followed them into the parking lot, but the trio reportedly refused that individual’s request to look in their vehicle. The New York Times reported that police were called, and were able to track the vehicle to a home belonging to one of the suspects. Inside that home, according to reports, was a pool filled with marine animals — including Miss Helen.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a full-fledged caper. Man, it’s cool to write “full-fledged caper.” Add that to the earlier list of things that get my attention. Oh, and cookies. Add cookies to that list, too.
Leon Valley Police Department Chief Joseph Salvaggio told KSAT-12 that the pool looked “like a mockup [of the aquarium.” The resident “very much knew what he was doing,” Salvaggio continued. “[He] kept that animal alive and was able to continue to see that animal thrive, which was pretty shocking to all of us.”
Salvaggio said that the suspect gave police permission to go in to the house, and, “He took us right to where the shark was and pointed [her] out.
“Initially, they were going to show us an old receipt for this type of shark, but it was obviously doctored and the gig was up,” Salvaggio told The San Antonio Express-News.
Yeah, go ahead and add “the gig was up” to my list of attention-grabbing phrases and words.
Anthony Shannon, who has been identified as one of the suspects, told KENS-5 in San Antonio that he decided to steal the shark after he was told by a friend that animals in the aquarium were dying frequently. He admitted that it was wrong to steal the shark, but he felt compelled to help.
“I’m an activist, not a criminal,” he explained.
Let’s keep this simple, Mr. Shannon: If you commit a crime, you are, by definition, a criminal. At the very least, you are a person who has committed a criminal act. Wait, no, that is kind of the definition of being a criminal, right? Yeah, let’s stick with that.
And Shannon was in fact charged with theft of property between $750 and $2,500. Charges were still pending for the other two involved, and Salvaggio said police were working with the government on possible federal charges related to transporting animals without a specific permit.
Despite her most-unexpected adventure, Miss Helen appears to be faring quite well.
“She’s very healthy,” said Jamie Shank, the aquarium’s assistant husbandry director, to News 4 San Antonio. “I’m glad [the thieves] did take care of her. ... She’s going to have a nice, healthy life, it seems.”
You know what? Go ahead and add the term “assistant husbandry director” to that list.
This really is the story that keeps giving back. Welcome home, Miss Helen.
By Darin J. McCann