HomeOutdoorsNewsDNA Test Confirms Bull Shark Fatally Attacked Teen in February

DNA Test Confirms Bull Shark Fatally Attacked Teen in February

by Caitlin Berard
Bull Shark Similar to Individual Behind Fatal Attack
(Photo by NaluPhoto via Getty Images)

Last month, 16-year-old Stella Berry suffered a fatal shark attack while swimming in Western Australia’s Swan River with her friends. At the time, the exact species of shark remained unknown. Now, however, DNA tests have confirmed that a bull shark was behind the deadly attack.

In the wake of the attack and subsequent identification of the species as a bull shark, the Australian government is working to expand its shark tagging program. In the coming days, wildlife officials will begin tagging adult bull sharks in the Swan and Canning River estuaries.

Sharks are more commonly found in saltwater but can move into freshwater environments without difficulty. In fact, female sharks often migrate to rivers and estuaries to birth their litters. This not only provides their young with a more abundant food source but enhances their chance of survival by keeping them away from larger predators in the early days of life.

Wildlife Officials Begin Tagging Bull Sharks to Prevent Future Attacks

By tagging bull sharks in the area, wildlife officials and the WA government hope to prevent further attacks in the future by warning swimmers and other recreationists of their presence.

“I think [Stella Berry’s death] heightened the issue in the public’s mind,” WA Fisheries Minister Don Punch said in a press conference regarding the area’s first fatal shark attack in 100 years.

“The risk of a shark attack is not high, it’s incredibly low. But these attacks do happen and that’s why we’re putting everything in place that we possibly can do … to advise the public when there is a heightened risk.”

Officials are also assessing possible locations to install acoustic receivers capable of tracking shark movement and volume. They hope to deploy three devices in total, each of which providing real-time shark activity notifications with a 1,600-foot range in ideal water conditions.

Shark Sightings Spike in Wake of Teen’s Bull Shark Attack, Death

Since the death of Stella Berry, Surf Life Saving WA, an Australian rescue organization, has received 10 reports of bull shark sightings, far more than usual. Though an increase in public reports can seem frightening, Fisheries Minister Punch considers the increase a positive development.

“We’ve started to see the reports come as people have sighted sharks. That’s a good thing,” he said, per ABC News. “The more that we can get information about sightings, the more we can upload that into our SharkSmart system and enable people to make informed decisions about what they’d like to do.”

Reports such as these have always been beneficial to the research and monitoring of the area’s shark population. With the tags and receivers in place, officials could form even greater mitigation strategies. These tags aren’t meant to harm the bull sharks, Punch said, but simply to act as a means of warning citizens of the potential risk of attack.

“Culling is not part of our strategy,” he clarified. “This is very much a research and evidence-gathering process, as well as mitigating risk as soon as we possibly can.”