Know shark patrol signals for 'immediate threat'
HELICOPTERS conducting shark patrols over North Coast beaches will use signals to get surfers and swimmers out of the water if they believe there is an immediate threat.
Local helicopter services Air T&G and Rotorwing have been contracted by the State Government to do once-daily patrols during the school holidays.
Air T&G patrol helicopters, the Bell 47 and Robinson R22, will use hand signals to motion surfers out of the water while the Rotorwing Schweitzer 269 will conduct tight orbits with a siren sounding.
Rotorwing operations manager Michael Barnes said the helicopter would only alert ocean-goers if a shark was posing a threat - like the 3.5m shark spotted 50m from surfers at Flat Rock yesterday.
"Sharks are in the ocean, everyone knows that and we don't want to cause panic every time we see an animal," he said.
"The only time that we're going to notify the public is when we believe that there's an immediate threat to the public and that's when we conduct very tight orbits overhead the animal and sound the siren.
"It's up to them (the surfers) whether they want to get out of the water, we just want to make sure that everyone is aware, that's why we're doing it."
Mr Barnes said the helicopter alerted ocean-goers to a shark at Flat Rock yesterday because it was very close to surfers, moving quickly and behaving "erratically".
He said the behaviour was in stark contrast to other sharks that had been spotted which appeared slow moving and calm.
At its closest, he said the shark got within 50m of the surfers.
"We're not doing it just because we've seen a shark, we're doing it because we believe that animal is potentially endangering their situation," he said.
Air T&G director and chief pilot Tim Latimer said when a shark was spotted, the helicopter crew would monitor its behaviour and its direction.
"If we're at a reasonable height circling, it's not an immediate threat to anybody," he said.
"But if it is in close proximity to people, we'll go fairly low level and usually the observer will put their hand out and point to the surfers to swim towards the beach."
The State Government funded patrols, run in conjunction with the Department of Primary Industries, began on Saturday and will continue through until the end of school holidays on October 6.