Oxford black-tie ball's plans to display live shark cancelled

Oxford students' bright idea to have a shark tank at their £110-per-head ball has been stopped by their college principal

Oxford students' plans to display a live shark in a tank at a May ball at Somerville College have been dropped under pressure from their college principal.

Dr Alice Prochaska intervened after she received letters of complaint asking her to use her authority 'to prevent any live animals from being used at the ball', which is being run jointly by Jesus and Somerville, Lady Thatcher's alma mater.

The Last Ball, as the event is known, is described by organisers as 'one last night of decadence, debauchery, and indulgence'. It is sold out, even with the cheapest tickets to the event priced at £110.

The shark plans first came to public attention after posters started appearing around Oxford, with the words Ginglymostoma cirratum - the Latin name for nurse shark - followed by 'you really should go look that up'. According to another poster, Raymond Blanc is on the catering staff.

Prochaska acted after alumni Clare Phipps and Matthew Hawkins made complaints about the welfare of a shark in riotous conditions. Hawkins, a history graduate, told the Guardian: “It's worrying that a leading educational institution such as an Oxford college would allow that view of nature to be perpetuated, of animals as an extravagant, gaudy show.”

In a statement, Somerville College said that 'although the organisers had been very concerned in their plans to ensure animal welfare and safety was paramount', it had 'nonetheless decided that it would be inappropriate to have a shark at the event'.

'Neither the students nor the College would countenance any kind of mistreatment of any living creature'.

The Last Ball's organisers could not be reached for comment.