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Woman attacked by shark in Sydney Harbour thanks ‘heroic’ neighbours for saving her life

A 29-year-old woman in Australia who survived a severe shark attack in Sydney Harbour has thanked her “heroic” neighbours and emergency services for saving her life.

Lauren O’Neill survived a shark attack while she was swimming near a private wharf in Sydney Harbour’s Elizabeth Bay on Monday evening.

Despite sustaining major injuries from a shark mauling her leg, Ms O’Neill managed to cling to a ladder at the wharf.

Local residents, alerted by her soft yell, quickly came to her aid. After administering first aid, they ensured she was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital where she was reported to be in a stable condition.

In a statement released by St Vincent’s hospital, Ms O’Neill said she was taking a “short dip close to the shore” when she was bitten on the leg by the shark.

“She wishes to thank her heroic and very kind neighbours for the critical assistance they provided her,” the statement added.

She was “immensely grateful” to the paramedics and police officers for their “swift and caring actions at the scene” as well as the clinicians and specialist surgical teams who assisted her in the hospital.

The statement said: “[They] worked through the night, her likely full recovery is testament to their extraordinary skills.”

Michael Porter, the woman’s neighbour, told Sydney Morning Herald he had just returned from work when he heard “a soft yell” for help before 8pm on Monday and saw her.

“She was trying to climb in and behind her was her leg, which was completely open and full of dark red blood behind her,” Mr Porter said.

Authorities suspect a bull shark was responsible for the attack, a theory supported by the bite marks’ photographs.

Mr Porter said he called the police and more neighbours rushed to her side while a vet applied a tourniquet to stem the bleeding. He called her neighbour an “absolute hero” for saving her own life, according to Today news.

“People were holding her hand and helping her. (Lauren) was extremely brave the whole time and she was very lucid.

“She was talking and thanking us for getting the ambulance.”

Shark encounters in Sydney Harbour are rare but it is a crucial habitat for both juvenile and adult bull sharks.

ABC7 reported that a triangle of water connecting Kirribilli with Garden Island and the Opera House has been declared a bull shark “hotspot” and there are chances of increased shark activity this summer.

During this season, the harbour becomes a hotbed for these top predators, as they feast on fish like salmon, bonito, and mackerel tuna that dwell near the surface. Throughout the day, these sharks often conceal themselves in deep, 40m areas within the harbour, emerging to the surface at night to hunt.

Swimming during twilight or nighttime hours is particularly risky, as this is when bull sharks are most active in shallow waters.

But Dr Vincent Raoult, a postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie University, told the Guardian that even though Sydney harbour is home to a broad diversity of sharks and rays, “the vast majority of which are of no threat to people”.

But warmer climes might be pushing the sharks closer to the shore.

A fisherman named Craig McGill, who runs the tour company Fishabout told news.com.au that the population of bull sharks has been bigger in recent months.

“The Harbour is crawling with sharks at the moment,” Mr McGill said.

“The water is unusually warm, so we’ve had a massive influx of bait fish, and bigger fish chasing them, which means sharks are on their tail.

“The heavy rain from the past few years has really boosted the whole food chain, so we’ve got bundles of salmon, bonito, kingfish and tailor in the Harbour, so the sharks are after them.

“And on top of all that, the water has been murkier this season because of rain and algae blooms.”

The Australian Shark Incident Database records that, since 1791, there have been 36 shark bite incidents in Sydney Harbour.

Excluding this week’s incident, the previous shark bite incident was in 2009, as per the records maintained by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Flinders University, and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the Guardian reported.

According to Dr Chris Pepin-Neff, author of “Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking”, bull sharks are known to inhabit Sydney Harbour during the summer months and then migrate to the Brisbane River when winter arrives.

He says that as climate change warms water “the waters are warmer for longer, and so the amount of time that the shark spends in Sydney harbour and other areas around Sydney is increasing over time.”