When Leon Valley police got a call over the weekend that someone had stolen a shark from the San Antonio Aquarium, they initially thought it was a hoax. After all, it was Shark Week.
“You’d never think (of) something like that,” Leon Valley Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio said.
But the theft was no joke. Now, a man accused of stealing the shark is facing a state felony theft charge and possibly federal charges.
Salvaggio said Antone Shannon, 38, has admitted taking Miss Helen, a small gray horn shark. Shannon was released on bond Tuesday afternoon.
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Police said Shannon, working with a woman and another man, snatched Miss Helen out of her tank, wrapped her in a blanket and pushed her out of the aquarium in a baby carriage. In the process, Salvaggio said, Shannon dumped a bucket of a bleach solution into a water filtration system and used the bucket to help move the shark.
“Our marine husbandry team was able to counter that in time for it to not do any damage to the other exhibits,” said Jenny Spellman, general manager of the aquarium.
As the thieves started to leave the aquarium, Salvaggio said staff noticed water dripping from the carriage, prompting them to follow the trio.
In the parking lot, Shannon brushed off requests to look inside the carriage, saying “they were heading out to get their baby medication (because) it was sick,” said Spellman, one of the staffers who went after the thieves.
After the three left in a pickup, she said staff reviewed security footage and confirmed a theft had occurred before calling the police.
Salvaggio said the other man and the woman have been identified and admitted their roles, but charges haven’t been filed yet. The trio consists of a married couple and a neighbor, Salvaggio said.
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“We will be filing on them at large and letting the District Attorney’s Office issue warrants for them if they deem so,” Salvaggio said.
After smuggling the shark out of the aquarium, police say Shannon drove her to his house, where he had a personal aquarium. But authorities tracked down the license plate of the car and contacted its owner — one of the other two suspects — which led them to Shannon, Salvaggio said.
Initially, “(Shannon) wasn’t giving up information,” Salvaggio said. “But when we released the information through the media, we got calls and he knew it was done. Once he saw the pictures of himself, he knew we knew and he decided to cooperate.”
Over the phone, Salvaggio said, officers gave Shannon a choice: Let them into the house willingly, or they’d come in with a search warrant. When Shannon chose the first option, Salvaggio added, police went to his house and he took them directly to the shark.
After first showing the officers a doctored receipt for the shark, Shannon confessed to the theft, according to police. An arrest warrant was not issued, Salvaggio said — instead, Shannon “was filed on that night … based on his confession.”
Authorities say Shannon told them he was trying to replace a pet horn shark that had died, adding that evidence suggests this is the truth. Salvaggio said there was no evidence of an attempt to sell the shark, and Spellman said the primary market is for marine life enthusiasts like Shannon anyways.
Miss Helen, for her part, is doing fine.
“She’s still doing well,” Spellman said. “She hasn’t eaten today, but that’s not out of the ordinary after she’s been through such stressful events.”
The theft seems to have involved lots of preparation. Salvaggio said Shannon previously visited the aquarium under the guise of a quality control tester, allowing him to test the salinity of the shark’s water tank so he could replicate it in his setup at home.
“One of the employees confirmed that it was the same person,” Spellman said. “So I don’t know if he actually works for the company or not, but he was able to get in and kind of look around the back areas that way.”
Shannon also visited the aquarium multiple times in the weeks leading up to the heist, Salvaggio said.
Shannon now faces a state felony charge for theft of property valued at between $2,500 and $30,000. Although the shark previously has been valued at $2,000, Salvaggio says the aquarium’s investment puts the value at around $3,000.
In addition to the state theft charge, Salvaggio said Shannon could also be facing federal charges for other animals found in his home aquarium. Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been notified, Salvaggio said, and the Leon Valley Police Department has requested that an investigation be started.
“There’s some animals (in there) that they shouldn’t have,” Salvaggio said — including more sharks.
According to online court records, Shannon has a lengthy criminal history in Bexar County. He’s been convicted of at least six charges, including vehicle theft, drug possession and evading arrest.
Brian Contreras is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. | email@example.com | Twitter: @_B_Contreras_