A British scuba diver has been killed in the first shark-attack incident recorded in Sydney, Australia for nearly 60 years.
Simon Nellist, 35, an expatriate based in the city, was not on scuba at the time but had been surface-swimming regularly at a coastal location while in training for a charity event. A qualified instructor, he is understood to have been connected to Sydney’s Scubathlon club.
The fatal incident occurred close to rocks but about 150m out from a beach in Little Bay in the south-east of the city at around 4.30pm yesterday (16 February).
Nellist was attacked by what experts suspect from witness statements to have been a great white shark, estimated to be at least 3m long. It was said to have launched a vertical attack, causing catastrophic injuries.
The swimmer’s remains and parts of his wetsuit were recovered from the water some two hours after the attack, as emergency services conducted a search for the shark using drones, a helicopter and jetskis.
Beaches east and south of Sydney were closed until Friday. The city’s waters have long been guarded by a web of shark nets, and after the attack baited drumlines were run out in a bid to catch the shark that had evaded the cordon.
Nellist had not been a believer in such precautions – last August he had posted on his Facebook page: “Shark nets and drumlines protect no one and kill all kinds of marine life every year. They need to go so these things don’t happen.”
Around 20 shark attacks are recorded in Australia annually, mainly in New South Wales and Western Australia. Two of these were fatal last year, and seven in 2020.
Although it is currently the Australian winter, sea temperatures are unseasonably high at up to 26°C, attracting baitfish that might have encouraged a shark to come closer to the shoreline than usual. With most attacks on humans believed to be cases of mistaken identity, a likely scenario would be that the culprit mistook Nellist for a vulnerable seal at the surface.
Steve has been a scuba diver for 30 years and became editor of Diver magazine in 1996, following 10 years with BBC World Service and the 10 before that in motoring journalism.