Teen Shark Victim Had Worked on a Project About Staying Safe in Water

A teenager who was mauled to death by a shark in Australia on Saturday had previously been praised for a school project that aimed to protect swimmers against such attacks.

Stella Berry, 16, from Perth, Western Australia, had been Jet-Skiing in the Swan River with her friends when she saw a pod of dolphins and decided to join them in the water, 7NEWS reported. It was then that the fatal attack took place. Berry suffered critical injuries and massive blood loss after what experts believe to have been an attack from a bull shark.

Berry was not naïve to the risks involved in swimming in these waters. In 2017, she had been recognized by the local mayor for her design of a shark-free ocean pool at the popular Cottesloe Beach, in the Perth suburb.

Bull shark swimming after fish
Photo of a bull shark swimming after a fish. Stella Berry is believed to have been a victim of an attack from this species. FionaAyerst/Getty

At 10 years old, the student at St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls worked with a classmate on the project. The aim was to solve a local engineering problem as there had been rumblings locally about the idea of an ocean pool at Cottesloe Beach at the time. The result? A structure that would allow small fish to enter into the pool while keeping larger predators, like sharks, out.

"I'm most impressed that girls are doing engineering at such a young age," Jo Dawkins, the Cottesloe mayor at the time, told local paper Western Suburbs Weekly. "They've addressed safety issues, accessibility issues, social issues—and they've done it so creatively."

Berry's classmate Amelia Hagon had said that the inclusion of nature had been an important part of their design. "I like the fact that the fish can come in—it's not just water," she told the outlet. "It's just like playing out in the ocean but there are no sharks."

Fisheries Minister Don Punch told ABC News that bull sharks were known to enter estuaries and freshwater river systems, so it seemed likely that this species was behind the attack. Shark biologist and conservation lead at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Leo Guida, also said that it would not be surprising if these sharks were found in the Swan River.

"Bull sharks tend to spike in numbers near river mouths during and after heavy rains so it's best to avoid swimming or surfing at beaches near river mouths," Guida previously told Newsweek. "[They] are known to be an aggressive species and caution should always be taken around them."

However, an attack of this nature is very rare. "The tragic incident on the weekend was the first fatality in 100 years, and the second bite in just as many years," Guida said.

Tributes for the teenager have poured in ever since the incident, with a statement from her parents describing her as a "vibrant and happy girl."

The incident is being investigated by local authorities.

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