Shark attack in Swan River in Perth suburb of Bicton leaves man with serious leg injuries - ABC News  01/14/2021 00:36:29 

A man has been attacked by a bull shark in Perth's Swan River, at Point Walter Reserve in the suburb of Bicton.

  • The man aged in his 50s was swimming when he was bitten on the leg
  • He was pulled from the water by nearby witnesses and taken to hospital
  • Shark attacks in the river are very rare, with the last fatal attack in 1923

The attack happened around 8:00am near Blackwall Reach, a limestone cliff running along the river that is popular with swimmers, paddlers and rock climbers.

The man aged in his 50s was bitten on the leg by a 2-3 metre bull shark.

He was pulled from the water by witnesses including two kayakers, who tried to stem his bleeding and put him on a paddleboard to move him to shore.

The man was taken by ambulance to Royal Perth Hospital with what WA Police said were serious injuries to his leg.

The shoreline of the Swan River in Bicton with boats on the water.
The man was pulled from the water and taken to shore before receiving medical treatment.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

The full severity of the man's injuries is not yet known, but he was taken to hospital under "priority one" conditions, the fastest ambulance transport possible.

Bull sharks are present in the Swan River but are very rarely involved in attacks.

Police are urging swimmers to stay out of the water near Point Walter.

Kayakers helped pull man from water

Two kayakers who helped move the man out of the water and up to the road described the scene as traumatic.

Peter Towndrow and Kieron Hayter were paddling along the riverbank when they saw two swimmers in front of them.

A wide shot of the Swan River at Point Walter Reserve.
Police are advising people in the area at Point Walter Reserve to stay out of the water.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

"One of them yelled out that there had been a shark attack, which was pretty surprising," Mr Towndrow said.

"Keiron and I both jumped off the kayaks and obviously went to his aid, and we tried to prevent further bleeding by applying pressure to the wound. Kieron took his top off and wrapped it around the wound."

The men put the victim onto a paddleboard and moved him down the river until they could carry him up to the road.

"We were trying to keep him calm and we eventually got him on to the paddleboard," Mr Towndrow said.

"We had around six or seven people helping with the paddleboard and managed to get him up to the roadway& the ambulance probably turned up five or six minutes later.

"He was conscious at the time that he went into the ambulance.

"It's a pretty big bite, probably around 30 centimetres across the top of his thigh.

"It's a pretty traumatic thing & we were trying to keep him calm and we were trying not to panic ourselves, because this is not something you expect to see.

Mr Hayter said he swam or kayaked nearly every day on the river.

"I've heard there's bull sharks in the river but I've never seen any," he said.

'They did an incredible job'

David Davenport was standing on his deck when he heard shouting and splashing on the river.

Mr Davenport said he thought the men had jumped off the back of a boat, before he saw blood in the water.

"After a while the splashing stopped and they started swimming to shore and I could see the trail of blood coming out of the one guy," he said.

"I called my son, Andrew, and told him to come down here and I phoned the ambulance as they were swimming to shore.

Seven climbers traverse a cliff above the river.
This stretch of the river is also a popular deep water soloing spot for rock climbers.(Supplied: Andrew Close)

Mr Davenport said the two kayakers helped save the victim's life.

"The amount of blood I saw coming out of him was quite astounding," he said.

"When I eventually came down [to the river] there was virtually no blood, so they had managed to stem the blood completely.

"You have to take your hat off to those guys, they did an incredible job."

Premier thanks rescuers

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he understood it was "quite a serious bite".

"A man in his 50s was swimming in the river," Mr McGowan said.

"He's been bitten on the leg by a bull shark.

"Some kayakers I understand rescued the man, and I'd like to thank them for that and I wish the man all the very best in [his] recovery."

A man stands with his arms out above the water on rocks metres above the surface.
Cliff jumping is a popular pastime at Blackwall Reach.(ABC News: Lucie Bell)

Mr McGowan said it was a "very, very surprising event".

"The last time someone was killed by a bull shark in the river was 100 years ago, so this is unexpected and surprising," he said.

The last time a fatal attack was recorded in the Swan River was in 1923 when a 13-year-old boy died from a bite to his thigh.

WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup said more needed to be done to keep people safe in the water.

"Obviously, (I am) very concerned about shark attack in the river," Mr Kikrup said.

"That's very tragic and very scary. We want to see more research and development, more tagging, and we want to make sure we keep West Australians safe in the water."

'Freak' river attack very rare, expert says

Shark expert Adrian Gleiss, from the Harry Butler Institute at Murdoch University, said the serious attack was "a bit of a freak accident".

"It's a tragic event but actually it's a very, very unusual event," he said.

Dr Gleiss said bull sharks tended to live in waters close to humans, so they were more likely to come into contact with people than other sharks.

"All large sharks pose a danger to humans and around the world there have been more incidents with bull sharks rather than other species, because they tend to live quite close to coasts," he said.

Mr Gleiss stands in front of some trees.
Shark expert Adrian Gleiss says the Swan and Canning rivers are used by bull sharks as nurseries.(Supplied: Adrian Gleiss)

But he said it was unusual for a bull shark of that size to come into the Swan River and they had proved difficult to tag.

He said the Swan and Canning rivers were nurseries for bull shark pups, although there were "relatively few" there at any one time.

These pups, usually between 80 centimetres and 1.3 metres long, live in the river and travelled regularly between West Swan and Point Walter, where the attack occurred.

"Those bigger individuals, we have no idea when they come or anything," Dr Gleiss said.

"We think it's got to do with pupping and they should pup around this time of year when the water is really starting to warm up, so from that point of view it really makes sense that that could be a pregnant female or one that has recently given birth."

Mr McGowan said he would receive a full report from the Department of Fisheries in the coming days.

"About this event and what can be done about these sorts of issues," he said.

The Premier said while WA had shark tagging programs in the ocean, the programs did not extend to the river "because it's a different species of shark and we haven't had an attack in 50 years".

"Fisheries has cleared the water and obviously they are on the lookout in that area. But sharks migrate, they move around & it's very difficult to predict or prevent," he said.


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