Australian authorities are searching for the white shark that killed a man in Sydney’s first fatal attack in 59 years.
Most of the city’s beaches were shut on Thursday with swimmers banned from the water after Wednesday’s attack. Authorities say the male victim was mauled by a white shark just off Little Bay in east Sydney.
Officials have not yet identified the man. He had been swimming just offshore in choppy waters. Shark attacks in Sydney are uncommon because the city has long had nets and other deterrents in its waters.
On Thursday, surf lifesavers on jet skis patrolled a 25km (15.5 miles) stretch of water from Bondi in the city’s east to Cronulla in the south to find the shark. Authorities are also using helicopters and drones.
The state government said its shark experts had estimated the predator to be a white shark “at least three metres” in length based on footage of the incident taken by a member of the public. Several passers-by who witnessed the scene have described a vicious and frenzied attack.
“(The person) was swimming and a shark came and attacked (them) vertically,” Kris Linto told Nine News. “We heard a yell and turned around, it looked like a car had landed in the water, a big splash then the shark.”
One man recounted how he had been fishing on the rocks when he saw the swimmer get dragged under. “I was terrible. I am shaking. I keep vomiting. It’s very, very upsetting,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Authorities managed to retrieve body parts from the water two hours after the attack. The area’s state MP Michael Daley said locals were shaken by the “horrific” incident. The victim had been a regular visitor. “[He] came here and swam nearly everyday,” he told the ABC.
“It’s a beautiful day at one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches, but there’s a real dark pall hanging over our community today,” he said. An ocean swimming race in the nearby area is still scheduled for this Sunday. Organisers say they are keeping an eye on conditions.
Contact between a human and a shark is rare, given there are thousands of sharks in the water at any time. Attacks typically occur in the warmer summer months (December – February) in Australia because more people are in the water.
Australia typically records about 20 shark attacks each year, with most in New South Wales and Western Australia. There have been four shark attacks so far this year, according to the Australian Shark Attack File.