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Sharks seen metres from swimmers

This shark-spotting gyrocopter ison patrol every weekend over North Coast beaches between Wooli and Byron Bay.
This shark-spotting gyrocopter ison patrol every weekend over North Coast beaches between Wooli and Byron Bay.

IF YOU swim regularly at Byron Bay you are indeed entering the food chain.

But don’t panic. Despite a lack of shark attacks this year on the beaches of the popular tourist town, a regular aerial shark patrol has sighted numerous sharks swimming, sometimes within metres, of unsuspecting bathers.

Angourie gyrocopter pilot Peter Coulter said that in the three months since he started patrolling North Coast beaches by air, he had seen dozens of sharks, almost all of them between Tyagarah and Cape Byron.

“I fly north from Wooli and every time I come around the cape I see sharks,” he said.

Just before Christmas he was flying past the dramatic headland when he spied a four-metre whaler lurking just metres from half a dozen swimmers.

“It was huge and less than 20 metres from them,” he said. “The sight of it scared me and my passenger.”

Dropping low Mr Coulter flew in tight circles around the shark until the swimmers took notice and left the water.

On his rounds, which take place every Saturday and Sunday, Mr Coulter has seen a shark on two days at Shark Bay near Woody Head, a shark at Chinamans Beach at Evans Head, a few around Ballina and Lennox Head, and more than he can count at Byron Bay.

One time there were 30 hammerheads grouped in a tight pack, another time there were the same number of small whalers all clustered together.

“The water is clearer at Byron,” he said. “That may be part of it. But I’ve seen swimmers standing on The Wreck and waving and yet just a short distance away there is a shark swimming around.”

Mr Coulter patrols the coast in a German factory-built MT Sport gyrocopter and shares the duty with Paul Mitchell, of Ballina, who stores his aircraft at Evans Head.

A third pilot patrols beaches from Wooli to Coffs Harbour.

All three gyrocopters are expected to be at the Great Eastern Fly-In at Evans Head aerodrome next weekend.

Meanwhile, a new Gold Coast service, also using gyrocopters, has spied sharks prowling near bathers during the first week of a three-month trial operation.



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