DRAMATIC photos of the ocean churning water and sand into whirlpools off Lennox Head beach have been captured by Goonengerry pilot Tim Howes.
Mr Howes took the photos on a flight to Tyagarah, early on Thursday morning.
When he realised he had captured what he thought was a unique phenomenon, Mr Howes posted the photos on the North Coast Storm Chasers Facebook page looking for an explanation.
"The water spiralling was amazingly intense, to the point the water was funnelling down probably at least a metre in the centre," Mr Howes posted.
"I don't think anyone could keep their head above water in it."
It was the first time Mr Howes said he had seen such an amazing display by Mother Nature.
"I've flown over this piece of water hundreds of times before but never seen it," he said.
"It's worth noting these are two separate whirlpools, about 100 m apart, winds were blowing from the south west at about 15 knots."
Surf Life Saving Far North coast duty officer Jimmy Keogh said the whirlpools were caused by rips colliding with opposing currents.
"Those photos show two pretty significant and treacherous rips that had been created along the coast," he said.
Mr Keogh said whirlpools were fairly common and could be produced anywhere along the Australian coastline.
"In this case water trapped in an inshore gutter pushing along the beach to the north had escaped and was being dispersed probably 150 to 200 metres offshore," he said.
"There may be some underlying current on the sea floor that has met the water being dispersed by the rip that created the churning mass of water which formed a whirlpool."
Getting caught in a whirlpool could prove life-threatening for inexperienced swimmers if they panic, Mr Keogh said.
"The whirlpool won't suck you under. The biggest thing is if a person is in a rip and is being dragged out to sea is not to panic, conserve your energy, and try and signal for help on the shore."
"If you're unable to raise help, ride the rip out as long as you can because once it gets into deeper water it will disperse into a calm body of water."
After a five-year-old boy went missing on Thursday in waters off Pearl Beach, on the Central Coast, and a man in his 70s drowned at Old Bar beach, near Taree yesterday, Mr Keogh warned people against swimming during the patrol off-season, especially in rough conditions.
"Apart from Salt up at Kingscliff, no beaches on the Northern Rivers are currently patrolled, but surf clubs remain on-call to respond."