River swimmer mauled by shark

• Shark response unit manager Graeme Meinema surveys Blackwall Reach following Thursday morning’s shark attack. Photos by Steve Grant.

A BICTON father of two was rushed to hospital on Thursday after being mauled by a shark during his regular morning swim at Blackwall Reach.

Witnesses say Cameron Wrathall was attacked by a 2-3 metre bull shark just before 8am and had to be helped to shore by a couple of kayakers and a paddleboarder who applied a tourniquet to his heavily bleeding thigh. Mr Wrathall was taken to Royal Perth Hospital by ambulance as a “priority one” case and underwent surgery for what doctors described as serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

As the Herald arrived an hour or so later, the head of the fisheries department’s shark response unit was co-ordinating things from a lookout at the top of the reach’s rugged cliffs.

“It’s the first in a long time,” Graeme Meinema said of a shark attack in the Swan River.

The last reported attack was in 1973, though there are few details about the incident. Five years earlier 14-year-old Ingrid Gersmanas lost almost 20cm of her thigh when she was attacked by a shark while swimming further upriver near Belmont.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time that Ingrid didn’t see what bit her, and swam back to the riverbank unaided.

With his phone running hot, Mr Meinema co-ordinated two fisheries vessels to scan the waters around Point Walter Reserve while officers told the many families at the popular swimming beach to stay out of the water.

“I’m very happy with the response; we’ve got shark activity signs going up one kilometre each side of Blackwall Reach, officers on site, the water police and a helicopter in the air,” Mr Meinema said.

• The river is practically Simon Fleet’s backyard, but he and the kids might take a break from swimming there.

As the head of the shark unit, Mr Meinema told the Herald they were on 24-hour call and were kept busy throughout the year dealing with sightings and attacks the length of the state.

Simon Fleet lives across the road from the river and said he heard a commotion early in the morning.

“We hear sirens; normally it’s someone has hurt themselves. You very rarely see people jumping in the morning,” Mr Fleet said.

It was only a few days ago that he had taken his own two young children for their first jump off the cliffs near where the attack occurred.

“It’s a family tradition,” he said.

Mr Fleet said it gave him food for thought that his seven-year-old son had been by himself on a paddleboard just the day before, while the rest of the family kayaked nearby.

They may take a break from swimming in the river for a while.

“I don’t want to put them in danger, at least until I know what’s happening,” he said.

Following the attack, both Melville and Mosman Park councils closed beaches on each side of the river, while fisheries said officers would continue land and river patrols into Friday.

by STEVE GRANT and MADELEINE RICK

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