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Oxford Principal Nixes Student Plan to Have Live Shark at Ball

The tipoff that it would appear at all came from a poster for the ball that simply says, in large white letters, "Ginglymostoma cirratum (you should really go look that up)"

Oxford wants you to know it’s a really classy place. And what could possibly be classier than a giant fish tank with sharks in it? Not much, and that’s why the school was planning on displaying a live shark at its next ball. But after complaints that the shark is more super-villainy than super-classy, the principal of Oxford reviewed the case, agreed with the criticisms, and nixed the fin.

Many thought the shark was a joke, at first. The tipoff that it would appear at all came from a poster for the ball that simply says, in large white letters, “Ginglymostoma cirratum (you should really go look that up).” Ginglymostoma cirratum is the Latin name for nurse sharks. When asked about the reference, the planning committee, headed by Sam Levin (a second year biology student) wouldn’t reveal much more. The committee did confirm, however, that a live shark would be involved somehow.

Clare Phipps was one of the students who wasn’t happy. She told the Guardian, “There is a difference from a shark in an aquarium because that has an educational purpose, informing people about conservation, and often zoos are involved in breeding programmes and so on. This is about nothing more than showing off. We’ve got so much money sloshing around we can hire a shark.”

Levin poo-poo’d their concerns, telling the Guardian that the company providing the shark was experienced and professional. “It will have a guard and caretaker with it at all times to look out for signs of stress, and we’re keeping it there for only a short time. I feel confident that the shark will not suffer,” he said.

But it’s possible that Levin, despite his second year biology education, doesn’t know a ton about shark handling and how complicated it is. Just this year a shark on the set of a Kmart commercial died, on a set where there were both trained professionals and animal welfare watchdogs.

So, eventually, Oxford principal Alice Prochaska pulled the plug on Levin’s shark. After seeing the complaints from Phipps and others, she sent a note to the ball planners telling them to drop the shark. The tickets price will stay the same though, a full £110 for a sharkless night of “decadence, debauchery and indulgence.”

Update: The original version of this post was accompanied by an image of a sandbar shark, rather than a nurse shark. Thanks to David Shiffman for help identifying the right species.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Stopping Sharks by Blasting Their Senses
Shark Attack! (In a Fossil)

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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