Onlookers thought 'shark' cries were joke
Woman, 21, dies in shark attack
A woman desperately called out "Shark!" as she was being mauled to death in a frenzied attack by up to three of them - but onlookers thought she was joking.
The sharks struck as Sarah Kate Whiley, 21, from McDowall in Brisbane's northside, was swimming at Amity Point, off Queensland's North Stradbroke Island, about 5.30pm (AEST) yesterday.
Within seconds they had torn off both her arms and savagely mauled her torso and legs.
Two fishermen were the first to react, managing to drag her out of the water onto the beach.
Frantic bystanders scrambled for towels to stem the bleeding before a helicopter rushed her to Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital where she died of shock and massive blood loss.
Ms Whiley was among a group of friends from a church group swimming in waist-deep water 15 metres offshore.
Queensland Ambulance paramedic Lachlan Parker said she was barely alive when they reached her.
"She had lost significant amounts of blood," Mr Parker told ABC Radio.
"The patient had what we call altered level of consciousness where [we weren't] able to communicate directly with the patient."
The horror of the pack attack has stunned the carefree holiday haven just east of Brisbane.
Beaches have been closed as police and fishermen search waters off the Moreton Bay island for the sharks that attacked in waters about 15 metres from the sand.
Inspector Peter Harding said today all beaches within a two-kilometre stretch both east and west of the fateful spot - known as Rainbow Channel - had been closed "for a while" as a precautionary measure.
The shark death was the first at a beach protected by Queensland's Shark Safety Program since it began 44 years ago, Acting Premier Anna Bligh said.
Ms Bligh ordered an urgent investigation into the attack to assess the effectiveness of the program, which featured nets or drumlines - large baited hooks anchored to the seabed - in place off 84 beaches including Amity.
In the first detailed description of the tragedy, Inspector Harding said Ms Whiley had been swimming with three friends from a church group when she was attacked.
"She went down under the water ... after about five or six seconds the deceased came out of the water and screamed 'Shark' and of course people at the time thought she was only joking ... until they saw the blood," he said.
He said the extent of Ms Whiley's injuries indicated it was a pack of bull sharks, noted for their aggressive nature at this time of year
"She was bleeding quite heavily - I'm of the opinion of what I've seen and what I've been told, there was more than one shark involved, there could have been up to three," he said.
He said police divers and fishermen were trying to hunt down the sharks to "retrieve what we can".
"If we found them I suppose we would try to retrieve them and see if they have any body parts," he said.
"Realistically it's virtually impossible."
He said some locals won't go near Rainbow Channel, which he described as one of the deepest in Moreton Bay, "at any time".
"After Friday night's storm - the water was very murky and dirty, in fact so much so one of the locals of there wouldn't go in and dive," he said.
Despite earlier reports, he said there was no dog with Ms Whiley at the time of the attack, and that she was in water "anything from chest-deep to 30 feet".
Ms Bligh said the fatality proved the Shark Safety Program, initiated by the State Government in 1962 following a number of fatal shark attacks, was not an "impenetrable barrier between bathers and sharks".
"Amity Point has shark drumlines - they've had them since 1997 so it is very serious that there has been a fatality at a swimming beach that has these measures in place," she said.
Authorities said it was not clear what species of shark was responsible for the death.
However, South Australian based shark expert Andrew Fox said he would not be surprised if a bull shark was involved.
"It may mean the bull sharks have moved into the area and are feeding and they're a pretty large, robust shark," Mr Fox told Sky News.
The fact the woman was swimming with an animal and late in the afternoon could have contributed to the shark attack, he said.
"It's known ... not to swim with animals - I don't know how much that contributed in this particular case but it's a certainly one of the guidelines," Mr Fox said.
He denied there had been an increase in shark attacks across Australia in recent years.
"There's definitely been a bigger increase in the attention to shark attack ... with a lot of photographs being put into the media it makes us more aware," he said.
"Statistically there's very little change in recent years."
He said the risk of shark attack was "very, very low compared to just about any other form of danger".
But he implored swimmers to minimise the threat by avoiding waters in the early morning or late afternoon and swimming near deep-water channels.
"A lot of attacks are in shallow water - that's got to do with 99.9 per cent of people usually staying in shallow water - but deeper water is even more of a risk," he said.
Suzanne Deed, owner of the Amity Bungalows at Amity Point, which coincidently bears a similar name as the fictitious Amity Island - where swimmers were savaged in the movie Jaws - said onlookers believed a tiger shark was responsible.
"My daughter saw the whole thing. She was swimming in the water and she was actually further out than the girl who was attacked," Ms Deed told the Sunday Mail.
"She wasn't very far out - there are lots of dolphins and people like to swim with them."
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