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Teacher missing after shark attack off Australia; surfboard found with "one bite in the middle"

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Searchers have found what appear to be pieces of the wetsuit and surfboard belonging to a 46-year-old surfer who was attacked by a shark off South Australia's coast, and police said they were continuing to search for his remains Monday.

School teacher Simon Baccanello was attacked Saturday while surfing with others near his home at Elliston in South Australia state. His damaged surfboard was found soon after.

Authorities search for a missing surfer after a shark attack off Australia, on May 14, 2023. Reuters

Local State Emergency Service manager Trevlyn Smith told News Corp the surfboard had "one bite in the middle."

South Australia Police said Monday that searchers had found "items of interest" on Sunday near Walkers Rock where the attack occurred.

"One item appears to be a piece of wetsuit material and the other items appear to be small pieces of white polystyrene (possible surfboard material)," a police statement said. The evidence would be sent for forensic analysis.

In consultation with Baccanello's family, police would continue to search Walkers Rock and surrounding beaches for a number of days after high tide, the statement said.

Searchers say any remains are more likely to drift ashore rather than out to sea.

Jaiden Millar was one of around a dozen surfers in the water with Baccanello when the shark attacked.

"I saw his board tombstoning, which means he's underwater and his board's getting dragged under ... trying to fight his way back to the surface," Millar told News Corp.

Staff and students were mourning the loss of the teacher, 9 News reported.

"He had a real keenness with his students to make them feel good to build those relationships with the students," school principal Chad Fleming told 9 News. "And that's what he's going to be remembered for."

It was the first fatal shark attack in Australia since Feb. 15 when a swimmer was attacked by a 15-foot great white shark off a Sydney beach.

Just weeks before, a 16-year-old who jumped into a river from a personal watercraft was killed by a suspected bull shark near Perth.

2022 shark attack in Australia classified as "provoked"

Simon Nellist was killed when a great white attacked him in the waters near Sydney in February 2022. Earlier this month, the International Shark Attack Files, a University of Florida group that aims to compile all known shark attacks, classified the attack as "provoked."

But that doesn't mean Nellist was responsible for his death, according to Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

In a blog post, Naylor explained why the group classifies shark attacks at all.

"Our criteria for classifying shark attacks are designed to filter the data collected so that we can better understand the natural behavior of the animals," Naylor said. "Any activity that draws sharks into an area where they otherwise would not be, are excluded."

At the time of the attack on Nellist, several people were fishing from the shore cliffs, Naylor told the Times of London. He said in his blog post that fishing is "known to attract sharks" even if bait or chum aren't used.

The researchers focus their analysis on "unprovoked" attacks, Naylor said. Last year, there were 57 such attacks around the world, only five of which were fatal, according to the group.

Alex Sundby contributed to this report.

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