A great white shark circled to within inches of a pro surfer before darting away in a chilling encounter captured by a drone.
The 1.5 metre shark may have been deterred from attacking Matt Wilkinson by the unfamiliar touch of a leg rope on its snout or the overhead noise of the drone, officials said on Thursday.
The 32-year-old surfer from Sydney said he did not see the shark while he was paddling his board but heard a fin or tail break the water’s surface during the recreational surf on Wednesday off the tourist town of Ballina.
He told Nine Network Television: “I heard, like, the sound of its tail and I kinda looked back and I was like, ‘No, there’s nothing there,’ and I had some weird vibes and just convinced myself that it was all good, as you always do when you’re out in the surf.”
Moments later, Mr Wilkinson heard the overhead drone broadcast a recorded warning that a dangerous shark was nearby and everyone must leave the water.
Mr Wilkinson first saw the shark when he watched the drone footage on the beach and said “my heart just sank” when he realised how close the shark had come.
“It actually, like, went to have a bite and then my stinking little toe must’ve made it change its mind,” Mr Wilkinson said.
Drone operator Beau Monks, of Surf Life Saving NSW, said he was frightened when he saw the shark rise from the deep through the drone camera, then turn and quickly close in on Mr Wilkinson.
“I’m not entirely sure why the shark decided to turn away at the last minute. It could be something as simple as bumping into his leg rope or it might have been the drone,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Marine creatures have been known to dart away when a drone does come over,” he added.
Ballina is part of the New South Wales state coast north of Sydney that has become notorious for shark attacks in recent years.
Drones are patrolling Ballina beaches for sharks every day of the current school holiday period.