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A swimmer died in the 1st fatal shark attack at a Sydney beach in nearly 6 decades

A surfer carries his board into the water next to a sign declaring a shark sighting on Sydney's Manly Beach, Australia, November 24, 2015.
David Gray
A surfer carries his board into the water next to a sign declaring a shark sighting on Sydney's Manly Beach, Australia, November 24, 2015.

A swimmer died after being bitten by a shark at a beach in suburban Sydney, Australian authorities said, marking the first fatal shark attack in the city in nearly 60 years.

Emergency services arrived in the area of Buchan Point, Malabar, around 4:35 p.m. local time on Wednesday, following a report of a shark attacking a swimmer in the water, according to New South Wales police. Officers found human remains in the water.

"Unfortunately, this person had suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of the attack and there was nothing paramedics could do when we arrived on scene," NSW Ambulance inspector Lucky Phrachanh said in a statement.

NSW police did not elaborate further but said they will prepare a report for the coroner and work with the state Department of Primary Industries to investigate the circumstances surrounding the swimmer's death.

An unnamed eyewitness, clearly shaken, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had been fishing off nearby rocks when he saw a man wearing a wetsuit and swimming across the bay get dragged underwater by a large shark in an attack that lasted several seconds.

"He was yelling at first, and then when he went down, there were so many splashes," he said. "The shark won't stop."

Buchan Point is located between Little Bay Beach and Malabar Beach in the locality of Randwick City.

Randwick City Council announced that all of the area's beaches will be closed for 24 hours "as part of standard operating procedures following a fatal attack." Lifeguards will patrol the beaches looking for further shark sightings.

"The coast is our community's backyard. Little Bay is normally such a calm, beautiful place enjoyed by families," Randwick Mayor Dylan Parker said. "To lose someone to a shark attack like this is chilling. We are all in shock."

The council said this is the first fatal shark attack in Randwick City "in recent memory," noting a nonfatal shark attack occurred south of the area in February 2018.

In fact, this was the first fatal shark attack at a Sydney beach since 1963, the ABC reports. Actress Marcia Hathaway, who was 32 at the time, died after a shark bit her twice on the leg while she was standing in murky waters just 30 inches deep in Sugarloaf Bay.

Witnesses to Wednesday's attack said a large white shark "breached beneath the victim," according to the International Shark Attack File, a global database housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

"White sharks often hunt by swimming up directly beneath prey, using shadows to select targets," it explains. "Unfortunately, due to poor vision and murky water, it is likely difficult for the sharks to distinguish humans and traditional prey species such as seals."

There have been 76 unprovoked shark bites in Australian waters in the last five years, according to the trackers. Four of the 11 fatal attacks were elsewhere in New South Wales.

The ISAF says you're more likely to die from things like heart disease, drowning, lightning and fireworks than from a shark attack.

And authorities in New South Wales say that while most sharks are harmless to humans, there are steps swimmers can take to minimize their encounters. Those include swimming at a patrolled location between red and yellow flags, avoiding swimming and surfing at dawn, dusk and night, and steering clear of river mouths, murky waters and schools of baitfish.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.