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Suspected shark thief in San Antonio Aquarium heist charged with felony robbery

Miss Helen “is alive and well” after the ordeal, Jenny Spellman, the aquarium's general manager, told NBC News on Monday night.
Image: Horn Shark
A horn shark at the San Antonio Aquarium. The aquarium said three men stole an 18-inch horn shark and smuggled it out of the aquarium in a baby stroller on Saturday.San Antonio Aquarium

A suspect accused of stealing a small shark from the San Antonio Aquarium and smuggling it out in a baby carriage was charged with felony theft, according to authorities.

Anthony Sinclair Shannon, 38, was arrested Monday night and charged with felony theft of property valued at $2,500 to less than $30,000 for the heist of "Miss Helen," a horn shark at the San Antonio Aquarium on Saturday, according to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and other local authorities.

Shannon was released on a $10,000 bond Tuesday morning, according to the sheriff’s office.

The 16-inch long female shark was notably snatched on the last day of “Shark Week,” the Discovery Channel’s popular annual week-long programming dedicated to the species.

Security video released Monday shows the three thieves walking through the aquarium while pushing a baby carriage. They then snagged the horn shark from an interactive “touch pool” while an attendant was busy assisting other visitors, according to the aquarium.

The sharknappers then slipped into a filter room and emptied out a beach bucket, where they placed Miss Helen and then transferred her into the stroller and "hurried up the stairs and out to the parking lot" before driving away, the aquarium said.

Suspect in custody for snatching shark from San Antonio Aquarium ID'ed as Anthony Shannon.
Anthony Shannon.Bexar County Sheriff's Office

Jamie Shank, the aquarium’s assistant director of husbandry, told investigators that she suspects the man who stole Miss Helen visited the aquarium about a month prior to the heist and pretended to be an employee for Instant Ocean, the company that supplies the aquarium with salt, according to a post on the aquarium's Facebook page.

The man offered to do salt and water testing for all the aquarium's exhibits because the company had sent out bad batches of salt, according to the post. While staff informed the man they were experiencing no issues with their systems, they allowed him into the aquarium to be safe.

"So he spent hours with Jamie on a Monday about a month ago collecting samples from our tanks to take tests," the post said. "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."

Miss Helen “is alive and well” after the ordeal, Jenny Spellman, the aquarium's general manager, told NBC News on Monday night.

Leon Valley Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio told NBC News Tuesday that all three persons of interest were questioned Monday night and confessed to their involvement. Shannon is allegedly the one who pulled Miss Helen from her tank, he said. A separate male suspect provided a written confession and has not been arrested or charged while a female suspect was set to give a written confession as well, he added. Those two suspects are Shannon's neighbor and relative, he said.

Salvaggio said he could not substantiate claims that Shannon was trying to sell the shark and instead seemed to just be an avid collector.

He told reporters Monday night at the aquarium that police tracked down the getaway vehicle and found a house nearby where they were able to recover Miss Helen.

"When we got into the garage and into the house, it looked like almost a mock-up of here," he said, referring to the aquarium. "He had a lot of different marine animals in the home, very much knew what he was doing."

"We don't think he was planning on selling it. He didn't say that, but from looking at the other animals there, more than likely it was something that he wanted," he said. "He had had one of these in the past, don't know, I think the animal had died sometime in the past."

Gavin Naylor, Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said horn sharks are “incredibly interesting” and “pretty hardy little animals” that can live in shallow water.

“They’re not high performance sharks but as a result they can tolerate low oxygen levels fairly well,” he said, adding they could likely be out of water for 10 to 15 minutes and still recover.

He said that while stealing sharks is obviously wrong, horn sharks and other similar species exist as pets “all over the world” through marine hobbyists.

“There’s also a huge trade in these beautiful, fresh water stingrays from Brazil,” he said.

“The pet trade has a lot of very dedicated, passionate people, some of them do things legally and some do not,” he said. “They’re pretty committed people.”

Naylor said such types of sharks could cost $1,000 or $2,000 each and said he would imagine there were “several thousand horn shark pets around the world,” although it was impossible to know just how many.

Shank said Miss Helen, is "a tough little horn shark."

"When this happened all the staff was very heartbroken simply because we did not think that she would even survive that in itself," she told reporters. "I'm really proud of her and I'm so overjoyed to have her back."