A 35-year-old British diving instructor has been mauled to death by a great white shark in Sydney while training for a charity swim, in what was the first fatal attack of its kind in the waters off the city since the 1960s.
Simon Nellist was attacked from below by the 13ft-long predator at Buchan Point near Little Bay about 500ft from the beach yesterday afternoon. His remains and pieces of a wetsuit were found in the water an hour later.
Devastated friends revealed today that the 6ft 5in experienced ocean swimmer, who lived in the Sydney suburb of Wolli Creek but still had family in the UK, loved being in the water and was about to get married to his partner.
His friend Della Ross told 7 News: ‘Everything that is connected to Simon is connected to the ocean. The news hit us like a truck because he was one of the people who make this earth lighter. He loved the water, he loved diving.’
Witnesses watched the shark ‘attack vertically’ and land ‘like a car’ in the water, before dragging his body out into the ocean. The shark was about twice the size of Mr Nellist and turned the ocean red with blood after the attack.
The attack sparked panic on the beach, which was packed with dozens of swimmers, paddle boarders and rock fishermen who watched in horror at what was unfolding. But authorities are not believed to be planning to kill the shark, and will instead chase it away from the mainland if it is picked up by drum lines set up at the scene.
Mr Nellist was described as a certified instructor who was calm, patient and told students to respect the ocean. He was training for the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim due to take place on Sunday – but it has since been cancelled.
He died in what was the first fatal shark attack in Sydney in nearly six decades since 1963 when Australian actress Marcia Hathaway, 32, was mauled by while on a boating trip at Sugarloaf Bay in Middle Harbour. She was attacked by a bull shark in just 30 inches of water as her fiancé and friends watched on in horror, and died 20 minutes later.
The circumstances of yesterday’s tragedy emerged as an animal welfare advocate claimed the shark probably mistook its victim for a helpless seal because he was wearing a wetsuit, adding that the attack was extremely rare.
Lawrence Chlebeck, from the US-based Humane Society International group, said: ‘It’s very unusual to see a shark attack a human like that. Normally a bite is not fatal. Normally they bite something to figure out what it is.
‘Once they realise it’s a person and not a normal prey item, they take off. The vast majority of shark bites are a ‘one and done’ occurrence. This is a very unique, and unfortunately tragic, situation.’
Simon Nellist was attacked by a 13ft-long shark at Buchan Point near Little Bay in Sydney yesterday afternoon
Friends revealed that 6ft 5in ocean swimmer Mr Nellist was about to get married to his partner (pictured together)
Mr Nellist (pictured with his partner) was described as a calm and patient instructor who told students to respect the ocean
Australia has averaged just 1.2 fatal attacks a year since the 1970s, despite a spike last year, Mr Chlebuck said.
But he said most great white shark bites were juveniles, adding: ‘They are still trying to figure out their changing diet as they switch from fish, as young sharks, to seals and marine mammals.
Fatal shark attacks in Australia in recent years
- January 5, 2020: Diver Gary Johnson, 57, was killed by a great white shark while diving with his wife near Esperance in Western Australia
- April 6, 2020: Wildlife ranger Zachary Robba, 23, was mauled to death by a shark while swimming off the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland
- June 7, 2020: Surfer Rob Pedretti, 60, was killed by a great white shark while he was boarding at Salt Beach near Kingscliff in far northern New South Wales
- July 4, 2020: Spearfisher Matthew Tratt, 36, was mauled to death by a suspected great white shark in a ‘provoked’ attack on Fraser Island in Queensland
- July 11, 2020: Surfer Mani Hart-Deville, 15, was boarding when he was killed by a suspected great white shark at Wooli Beach, near Grafton on the New South Wales North Coast
- September 8, 2020: Surfer Nick Slater, 46, was mauled to death by a suspected great white at Greenmount Beach on the Gold Coast
- October 9, 2020: Father-of-two Andrew Sharpe was killed by a shark while surfing at Kelp Beds in Wylie Bay, near Esperance on Western Australia’s south coast
- November 22, 2020: Cable Beach, Western Australia: Charles Cernobori, 59, who worked at a Cable Beach hotel was killed by a 4m suspected tiger shark while bodyboarding 2km north of the main tourist section
- November 6, 2021: Paul Millachip, 57, was believed to have been taken by a shark while swimming at a beach in North Fremantle in Perth – with the attack witnessed by multiple people
- January 17, 2022: Diving instructor Simon Nellist swimmer is killed off Little Bay in Sydney’s east after being attacked by a great white shark
‘To see this behaviour from something said to be four or five metres long is very unusual.’
He feared the nearby fishermen may have been using live bait and burley or throwing discarded fish guts into the sea, inadvertently luring the shark into shore.
‘Anything that puts blood in the water will attract sharks,’ he said. ‘I’m in no way apportioning blame, but it’s something we can look at when we try to make sense of these random rare occurrences.’
And Robert Lloyd, event director of the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim, said: ‘The organising committee extends our thoughts and prayers to the family of the swimmer who was so tragically taken yesterday.
‘Out of respect for the swimmer and his family, and following wide consultation with Randwick Council and experienced, senior Surf Life Saving personnel, we believe that cancelling the 2022 swim is appropriate.’
Angry locals took to social media hours after the mauling, saying fishing off the rocks would have attracted the predator.
‘Presumably baiting of this area would have attracted fish, so a shark could well be attracted too. Ghastly situation for the unsuspecting swimmer and rescue teams,’ one person said.
Another said: ‘The fishing will have encouraged the shark closer to shore. The swimmer didn’t stand a chance.’
But professional fisherman Joe Smythe told Daily Mail Australia that Buchan Point is an ideal spot for sharks already, adding that calls to ban recreational fishing were ‘hysteria’.
He said: ‘That location screams shark attacks, there’s a fish holding structure with the rocks and reef dropping off into deep water – and sharks patrol that territory.’
‘I was down there yesterday and there were birds in the area because of a school of bait fish. I don’t think fishing has anything to do with it, these attacks are usually quite random.
‘It used to be overfishing was causing sharks to get more desperate and now it’s turned around the other way and fishing is attracting fish and attracting sharks.’
‘It’s hysteria, this person swam there every day for years. It underlines the randomness of shark attacks and people are just looking for something to blame.’
Local MP Michael Daley told ABC News Breakfast that the victim regularly swam at the bay, which is regarded as one of Sydney’s best kept secrets.
Mr Nellist was training for an ocean swim when his life was taken in the shark attack which horrified those on the beach
Experienced ocean swimmer Mr Nellist, who lived in Australia but still had family in the UK, loved being in the water
A New South Wales Fisheries Patrol boat was out in the water off Little Bay Beach in Sydney today to search for the predator
Drum lines were deployed and an intensive drone and sea search launched for the killer shark, which disappeared into the sea within minutes of the attack.
How common are shark attacks in Australia?
Australia’s coastline is more than 15,000 miles (25,000km) long and around 170 of the 400 species of sharks inhabit Australian waters.
Shark attacks can occur at any time of year in Australia but are more common during the summer months from November to April when millions of people flock to the beaches during the warmer weather.
In 2020, Australia reported 22 unprovoked shark attacks which made up 38 per cent of the worldwide total. Of these, eight were fatal and made up half of all fatal shark attacks worldwide in 2020.
On average, 77 shark attacks occur worldwide each year, with the US usually reporting the highest number. In 2020, Florida represented 48 per cent of all US shark attacks.
In 2021, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s investigated 137 alleged shark attacks worldwide.
The US made up most of the attacks, reporting 47, one of which proved fatal when a surfer was killed – possibly by a great white – on Christmas Eve off the central coast of California, authorities said. The state of Florida reported more than half of all attacks in the US in 2021 – with a total of 28.
There were 12 recorded shark attacks in Australia in 2021 and figures show three of these proved fatal.
Paul Millachip, 57, was believed to have been the last person killed during a shark attack in Australia in 2021 before today when he was taken by a shark while swimming at a beach in North Fremantle in Perth in November – with the attack witnessed by multiple people.
The fatal attack followed warnings that shark attacks are increasing.
In the 1990s there were 82 recorded shark attacks in Australia, which jumped to 161 in the following decade.
From 2010 to 2020 there were 220 and in 2021 there were three deadly attacks reported in Australia.
Bond’s University researcher Dr Daryl McPhee said the rise in attacks worldwide was down to a number of factors including more people being on the water doing activities, in more remote locations, and also warmer oceans are forcing shark and their food supply to different areas.
‘There is a long term trend of an increasing number of shark bites in Australia and overseas,’ Dr McPhee told The Project.
‘Sharks are part of the marine environment and if we could track where every shark was you would find there would be a large shark on most popular beaches most days of the year. So we need to find ways to co-exist.’
Professor Callum Brown from Macquarie University said despite the increase in shark attacks they are still exceptionally rare.
He added that old school methods of shark control such as nets, drum lines, and culls were being replaced with newer methods which are potentially more accurate.
One such method is to deploy drones which scan the water and send images to an artificial intelligence computer which can accurately spot sharks.
There are also personal deterrents which work by emitting an electrical pulse but these have to be used within metres from a shark to be effective.
And finally there are camouflage wetsuit and surfboard decals which can prevent surfers from appearing like seals to hungry sharks.
‘Our fear is really, it’s driven by guts. Not really by any data or any sort of realistic estimate of what the actual risk is. You should be more scared of getting in your car.’ he said.
Shocking footage of the attack shows the predator thrashing around in the ocean and dragging its victim underwater as the sea turned red with blood, while stunned fisherman watched on in horror.
In the clip, the man recording the video can be heard yelling: ‘Someone just got eaten by a shark. Big great white. That’s insane.’
The predator’s fin can be seen swerving through the waves as the water turns red and seagulls circle above.
A stunned fisherman standing on the rocks, just metres away from the shark, clasps his head with his hand as he turns towards the man filming.
In another video posted online, fisherman can be heard screaming as the terrifying incident unfolds in front of them.
‘Someone just got eaten by a shark. Oh man! Oh no! That’s insane. That’s a great white shark,’ one fisherman yells. ‘The person’s still there!
‘I just saw a four to five metre great white explode on the surface just here on a swimmer and it was like a car landing in the water.
‘F*** man, I heard a scream and the shark was just chomping on his body and the body was in half just off the rocks here. It came back and swallowed parts of his body and that was it. It disappeared.’
Other frantic onlookers on the rocks can be heard swearing and screaming in horror.
One of the fisherman at the scene said there was nothing they could do to save the man, as it became immediately apparent his injuries were fatal.
‘Out of no where, we heard ‘ahhh’, and then there was a big shark in the air – totally airborne – and it hit the guy very, very quick,’ he told reporters. ‘We couldn’t do anything about it.’
Buchan Point is a popular spot for rock fishing and spearfishing between Little Bay and Malabar beaches.
Emergency services workers and lifeguards rushed out to the scene in rescue helicopters, boats, and jet skis, in a frantic search to find the swimmer and the predator.
‘They’re supposed to be saving people’s lives not pulling body parts from the water but they’re on duty, they’re always there to keep us safe, we are very grateful,’ a witness said.
Lifeguards stepped up patrols today and police were also seen searching the shore near the scene of the attack and will continue doing so throughout the day.
The tragedy has rocked the local community, with New South Wales Police announcing at 10am yesterday that all 14 beaches from Bondi to Cronulla will be closed for 24 hours.
They include Bronte, Tamarama, Bondi, Coogee, Clovelly, South Maroubra, Little Bay, Malabar/Long Bay, La Perouse, Wanda, Elouera, North Cronulla and Cronulla.
New South Wales Surf Life Saving chief executive Steven Pierce said the Department of Planning and Environment was setting up drum lines in an effort to keep the killer shark and any others away from the beach.
He said tagged bull sharks were known to the area, but that surf lifesavers have yet to find the predator despite getting a helicopter into the air and jet skis into the water in minutes.
‘We need to ensure the beaches are cleared of danger to our best ability, so we’ll keep surveilling that area today, leading into the weekend we’ll have a high presence of water assets and will ensure the lifesaver helicopter will fly around the coast to have that extra presence,’ Mr Pierce told the Daily Telegraph.
The rescue chief said even a shark net would not have prevented the swimmer’s death, given the predator was so intent on attacking him.
‘I don’t think any form of shark netting would have prevented this attack, if a large shark is in the vicinity to attack someone,’ he said.
‘Nine out of ten times when we do patrols we see sharks, and they’re often just swimming by… tragically this shark was intent on causing harm.’
Daily Mail Australia reporters saw curious locals try to walk down to the beach early this morning but access to the shore was forbidden.
A sign at Little Bay Beach today notifying beachgoers how many deaths have been recorded at the beach spot
A shocked fishermen witnessed the shark fatally mauling the swimmer in Sydney yesterday afternoon
Two police officers search the water’s edge at Buchan Point near Little Bay Beach in Sydney today after the attack
Parents with children and locals walking their dogs stood in shock as they looked out at the rocks where the man’s life was taken.
One swimmer entered the water but was quickly approached by police on jet skis and ordered to get out.
Randwick City Council Mayor Dylan Parker said the news was shocking.
‘I learnt the news after coming out of the ocean myself at a different beach – swimming in the ocean is our pastime out here and to hear somebody die like this is just absolutely horrifying,’ he said.
‘An attack like this in recent memory is unprecedented.’
Mayor Parker added that it was likely some swimmers would be reluctant to get back in the water.
‘As a passionate swimmer myself, it’s definitely given me pause but it’s something we will work through. It’s very rare but there’s always a risk, generally our coastline is safe however unfortunately tragedies do occur,’ he said.
Agriculture Minister Dugald Sanders said while shark management in Australia was a ‘grey area’, drum lines are a proven solution.
‘I should point out this morning the fisheries guys have already been out to the location of the gutwrenching attack to put smart drum lines in,’ he told 2GB’s Ben Fordham.
Sydney’s last shark attack claimed the life of TV and radio actress Marcia Hathaway (pictured) in 1963 in Middle Harbour
Surf rescue workers searched Little Bay Beach in Sydney’s east for the shark that killed a swimmer as dawn broke today
Authorities have deployed drones to search the coastline for the shark responsible for the attack off the coast yesterday
Emergency services rushed out to the scene in boats, helicopters, and jet skis following the attack in the Sydney area
‘Smart drum lines have proven to be really successful and also tagging sharks to know exactly where they are and using our smart shark app, along with monitoring with drones.’
Mr Daley said he was ‘horrified and shocked’ upon hearing the news.
‘I was deeply concerned for the family and sad for what happened. I’m really disappointed that a fatal attack as rare as it’s been has come to pass, it really spoils the coastline in a way,’ he said.
‘I think a lot of people will think twice before going in the water or won’t at all. For this to happen is shocking, sad and disappointing.
‘There’s a range of attitudes to things like this, there’s some that pass it off and swim fearlessly and there are others that wont go in the water because they’re scared. This will make everyone sit up and think about it, but hopefully it wont scare people away.’
But for Little Bay local resident Frances Ruisan, a shark attack will not be stopping his daily swims.
‘I’ve lived here for 40 years, it definitely won’t deter me,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. He explained that the bay where swimmers commonly go is protected by rocks.
Fishermen at Little Bay in Sydney where the horrifying shark attack took place yesterday
Authorities on jet skis at Little Bay today as the search for the killer great white shark continues
One man entered the water at Little Bay this morning to go for a swim but was forced to get out of the water
‘I would go for a swim this afternoon. I’m not too worried because it’s protected,’ he added.
At the time of the attack, Little Bay beach was packed with dozens of swimmers, paddle boarders and rock fishermen at the time of the attack.
They were alerted of the danger by the swimmer’s ear-piercing screams but could do nothing but watch on in shock as the monster shark ripped him into two and ‘swallow parts of his body’.
‘Footage clearly shows a body, half a body being taken by a shark,’ a police officer told colleagues over a scanner when human remains were found an hour later.
The swimmer’s injuries were so catastrophic there was nothing paramedics could have done to save him, even if they got to him sooner.
Back on shore, dozens of fishermen and beachgoers were still in shock as the desperate hunt for the predator continued.
‘Some guy was swimming and a shark came and attacked him vertically,’ fisherman Kris Linto told Nine News.
Bondi Rescue Lifeguards shared this photo of one of their staff putting up shark warning signs early this morning
Police officers and surf life saving workers are pictured near the scene at Little Bay Beach this morning
New South Wales Police officers on the scene at Little Bay Beach this morning
Buoys have been set up in the water around the scene of the fatal shark attack yesterday
‘We heard a yell and turned around it looked like a car had landed in the water, a big splash then the shark was chomping at the body and there was blood everywhere. It was really bad.’
Another shaken witness recalled how the attack lasted just seconds. ‘He was yelling at first, and then when he went down there were so many splashes,’ he told ABC. ‘The shark wouldn’t stop.
‘It’s very, very upsetting. He just went down for a swim, enjoying the day, but that shark took his life.’
Four ambulance road crews and a rescue helicopter with a critical care doctor and a critical care paramedic on board attended the scene in the hope of saving his life.
‘Unfortunately this person had suffered catastrophic injuries and there wasn’t a lot paramedics could do when we arrived,’ New South Wales Ambulance Inspector Lucky Phrachanh said.
Police spent several hours at the scene interviewing shocked witnesses and later removed an SUV from the car park at nearby Malabar Beach.
Emergency services launched a desperate search for the swimmer and found human remains an hour later
The search for the great white shark continues today, prompting the closure of at least 11 beaches
Swimmers were ordered out of the water after the fatal shark attack at Little Bay Beach yesterday afternoon
Lifeguards on jet skis were involved in the frantic search for the swimmer following the shark attack
Many Sydney locals had hoped to spend today in the ocean with temperatures to reach a balmy 31C. But signage and barricades have been installed warning swimmers to stay out of the water.
Little Bay Beach is regarded as one of Sydney’s undiscovered jewels and a ‘secret’ beach popular with locals.
‘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.
‘Our entire community’s hearts go out to the family of the victim.’
Many locals have vowed to avoid the water for a while in the wake of the tragedy. A local woman who regularly goes swimming around the area said the attack ‘made her think twice’.
‘So many locals go out swimming here, every day, and I’ve never seen a shark,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. ‘It’s terrifying’.
The latest tragedy comes after the death of a father and son rock fishing at the same site two weeks ago.
Peter and his son Mahan, 10, were fishing on a rock face at Little Bay on the last day of the school holidays on January 31 when they were dragged into the water by a freak wave.
‘My husband and my son were just a few steps in front of me and now they are gone forever,’ his heartbroken wife told the Daily Telegraph. ‘I wish it was me instead of my little boy. I don’t have the will to live.’
Shocked witnesses (pictured speaking to police) heard the swimmer’s screams in the water yesterday
The attack unfolded off the shore at Buchan Point (pictured), a popular spot for rock fishermen
Police spent several hours at the scene last night examining the scene and interviewing witnesses
Jet skis were used in the frantic search for swimmer before human remains were found yesterday
Paramedics said there was nothing they could do as the swimmer suffered catastrophic injuries yesterday
Police will liaise with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the swimmer in yesterday’s.
‘DPI extends sincere condolences to the family and friends and first responders at this tragic time’, a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘DPI will continue to work with NSW Police and SLS NSW to monitor the area and provide any technical advice and resources if required, including deploying SMART drumlines in the area.’
The department has also advised a bull shark was detected 15km further north near Bondi an hour after the attack. It has not been confirmed the shark is linked to the attack.
A SharkSmart app provided by the New South Wales government alerts swimmers and surfers in real time when a shark is detected nearby.
It’s the first fatal shark attack in Sydney since 1963 when actress Marcia Hathaway, 32, was mauled by while on a boating trip in Sugarloaf Bay in Middle Harbour.
She was attacked by a bull shark in just 30 inches of water as her fiancé and friends watched on in horror.
‘I heard Marcia scream ‘oh dear’, and then she was dragged into deep water,’ her fiance Frederick Knight said at the time. I started to run to her and saw the fin of a shark. It seemed to have grabbed her on the calf of her right leg.
‘When I reached Marcia, it struck again and seized her on the thigh. I started to kick the shark and beat it with my fists, most of the struggle is a blank but I remember at one time the shark was between my legs and I seemed to be straddling it.’
The actress was stretchered in an ambulance, which then broke down while navigating the steep track from the harbour. She had stopped breathing by the time a second ambulance arrived.