GALLERY: Flying high with the shark spotters

Pilot Chad Carey checks the Lake Illawarra entrance and off Windang Beach. Pictures: ADAM McLEAN
Pilot Chad Carey checks the Lake Illawarra entrance and off Windang Beach. Pictures: ADAM McLEAN
Flight co-ordinator Rob Newell.

Flight co-ordinator Rob Newell.

Sharks have kept their distance from swimmers at Illawarra and South Coast beaches so far this summer, although several have been spotted by the region's "eye in the sky".

Since the start of December, the crew of the Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol have been taking to the skies, scanning the coastline from as far south as Ulladulla to the southern suburbs of Sydney.

Illawarra Mercury photographer Adam McLean joined the crew for the daily patrol yesterday and enjoyed some of the best views in the region - but no shark sightings.

Aerial patrol spokesman Barry Sandry said it had been a pretty quiet season so far, but the crew would continue to patrol daily until the end of January, and then regularly beyond that.

"Since the start of December we've seen a few sharks - mostly hammerhead and bull sharks - but none that have been in a position to place any lives in danger," he said.

"Hammerhead and bull sharks are the most common sightings, with grey nurse sharks more common in the colder waters further south, and the occasional white pointer."

Last summer, the crew noticed a lot more shark activity closer to shore and closer to popular beaches, with sharks interacting more with surfers and swimmers than in previous years.

"Over the last few years there have been more nudges and nibbles, probably because the numbers of sharks have been swelling a little," Mr Sandry said.

"But shark sightings are still very small compared to the number of swimmers in the ocean, and this year there's been no danger to humans in this region."

As well as shark spottings, the aerial patrol conducts beach and surf safety patrols.

Surf Life Saving Illawarra duty officer Lachlan Pritchard said the aerial patrol was a great help to rescue services on the ground.

"But so far so good this holiday season - no beaches have needed to be closed in the region due to sharks too close to shore," he said.

Sharks are not the main concern for surf lifesavers this weekend however, with forecast hot weather expected to see people flocking to the region's beaches.

The temperature is expected to soar to the high 30s to mid-40s this weekend as a heatwave moves east across Australia.

"We've got extra people on duty over the weekend, and three extra jet skis to do regular patrols of unpatrolled areas," Mr Pritchard said. "That said, our message remains for people to swim on patrolled beaches, in between the flags."

Police have also warned that leaving children, elderly people or pets unattended in cars could prove deadly in hot weather.


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