WARNING DISTRESSING CONTENT: Several shark experts believe British swimmer Simon Nellist’s unusual habit of wearing a swimsuit despite the warm waters may have got him killed in Little Bay, Sydney
A British expat who was mauled to death by a 15ft great white shark may have been targeted due to an unusual swimming habit he had, according to experts.
Diving instructor Simon Nellist was attacked on Wednesday afternoon in waters off the coast of Little Bay, Sydney, while training for a charity swimming event.
The 35-year-old RAF veteran, from Penzance, West Cornwall, was the Australian city’s first fatal shark attack victim since 1963, with all of its beaches then temporarily closed.
Some experts have claimed Simon was likely mistaken for the great white’s usual prey due to his dark wetsuit being mistaken for a seal.
He swam in the same spot down the channel from Little Bay to Malaba almost every day, traveling in from his home in Wolli Creek about six miles away.
Simon become known for always wearing the suit – an unusual habit due to how warm the water is.
Local swimmer Barbara, 85, told Daily Mail Australia : “He always wore a wetsuit, but the water here is quite warm and no one else really wears one.”
While expert Dr Chris Pepin-Neff said the silhouette created by the clothing would have likely confused the shark, who would have been lying in wait at the depth.
The Sydney University academic and author of Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking told news.com.au it’s “not crazy” for sharks to confuse humans for seals.
“There have probably been only 10 or 12 attacks of this kind in the last 30 years in the entire world,” he explained.
He previously urged against the overuse of the term “shark attack” for all such encounters and compared the incident to that of 17-year-old surfer Jevan Wright in 2001.
He was dragged out to sea while returning to shore at Port Lincoln in South Australia and his remains never found.
“It’s not crazy for sharks to bite humans thinking we might be prey,” he said.
However, he said while sharks will “test out things all the time”, 80 percent of incidents are “hit-and-run” because the predator recognizes after one bite we are “not a prey item”.
Thus, the majority of shark fatalities are due to loss of blood during a tester bite and not an ‘attack’.
Fellow expert Lawrence Chlebeck agreed the shark probably mistook Simon for a seal.
Marine scientist Vanessa Pirotta said such occurrences are “rare and uncommon”, telling ABC News it is likely “we will never see [the shark] again”.
Barbara, meanwhile, said the incident hasn’t put her off getting back in the water.
“There’s one fatal attack in 60 years so it doesn’t put you off, and I’m not going to be around in 60 years,” she said.
Sydney’s last fatal shark attack was in 1963, when actress Marcia Hathaway was attacked in the city’s Middle Harbour.