Bull shark likely behind fatal attack on 16-year-old girl swimming in river, authorities say

Bull sharks often frequent river systems that bring them into contact with humans.Photograph by Alastair Pollock/Getty

  • Authorities in Perth, Western Australia believe a bull shark is responsible for a fatal attack.

  • Stella Berry, 16, died in the Swan River in Perth.

  • Bull sharks, which can live in both salt and fresh water, can be aggressive, although fatal attacks are rare.

Authorities in Perth, Western Australia, believe a bull shark may be responsible for the attack that killed a 16-year-old boy who was jet skiing with friends.

Australia’s fisheries minister, Don Punch, said it was too soon to confirm the species of shark responsible for the fatal attack in the Swan River, but told ABC News he believes it may be a bull shark.

“We know that bull sharks, in particular, enter estuaries and freshwater river systems, so that is likely to be the case,” he said.

Bull sharks are the most dangerous sharks in the world, according to many experts, because they hunt off shorelines where people gather to swim. The species also inhabits freshwater rivers, which increases the chance of human encounters. They are known to have traveled up the Mississippi to Illinois, for example, a distance of 700 miles.

One or more bull sharks may have been responsible for the famous 1916 Jersey shore shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws.”

One of the largest bull sharks on record was 13 feet long and weighed 990 pounds.

“A beautiful daughter who was a vibrant and happy girl”

High school student Stella Berry died on February 4 while jet skiing with friends on the Swan River.

Speaking at a news conference, Western Australia Police Inspector Paul Robinson said “a pod of dolphins was possibly seen nearby, and the young woman jumped into the water to swim close to the dolphins,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

“This is an extremely traumatic event for everyone involved and everyone who knew the young woman, so I won’t go into the scope of injuries,” he said.

A Berry family tribute shared with ABC News described the high school student as their “beautiful daughter who was a vibrant, happy kid with plans to live in Europe after school.”

They said, “She had an infectious laugh. Stella loved creating art and spending time with her friends, especially at the river and the beach.”

Fatal shark attacks are rare in Australia. Premier Mark McGowan of Western Australia said, “in terms of these events, they are very rare events, but when they do happen, it’s horrible,” according to ABC News.

The Swan River had not seen a deadly shark attack since January 1923, when a bull shark killed a 13-year-old boy.

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