Video captured from overhead shows the 1.5 metre-long shark circling under surfer Matt Wilkinson’s board off Sharpes Beach in Ballina, New South Wales. Wilkinson can be seen paddling across the water with his hands, seemingly oblivious to the shark as it comes within inches of his feet.
The video shows the shark come close to Wilkinson’s board, then suddenly turn and dart away.
Wilkinson says he was “just cruising on my own and I heard a splash and a noise and looked around and couldn’t see anything.”
He then got some help from an eye in the sky: a special lifeguard drone operated by Surf Life Saving NSW, the local lifeguard agency.
“The drone came down and told me that there was a dangerous shark in the area, return to the beach,” Wilkinson said in a news release from Surf Life Saving NSW.
The drone had also captured footage for lifeguards — and Wilkinson — to review afterward.
“I got to the shore feeling a bit weird and the lifeguards showed me the footage and I realized how close it came without knowing it was there,” Wilkinson said. “It looks like it’s going for my leg and it changed its mind.”
Authorities closed the beach after the shark sighting.
“It sort of came out of nowhere, then went right up to Matt,” said drone operator Beau Monks, who was watching through the vehicle’s camera at the time.
“It moved pretty fast,” he said. “I was tracking it and notified the lifeguards and used the speaker on the drone to get everyone out of the water.
“Within 10 seconds it was at the surfer, and five seconds later it was gone.”
Surf Life Saving NSW released video of the incident on social media Wednesday. The group hailed the incident as a success for its high-tech lifeguard operation, which includes 34 drones patrolling the beaches along the coast.
Wilkinson, who is a professional surfer, compared the close call to an infamous shark attack he witnessed during an event in South Africa in 2015.
Surfer Mick Fanning was on the water at the J-Bay Open at the time when a shark grabbed him and hauled him off the board. He escaped the encounter without injury, though it shocked the surfing world at the time.
“When I saw the footage I saw the similarities, like I had a yellow leg rope on and Mick’s board was yellow is what I was thinking about when I came in,” Wilkinson said.
He added that he’s been surfing with sharks his “whole life,” and he’s just relieved that he’s managed to avoid any bad experiences.
“I’m just glad today the shark reconsidered at the last second,” he said.