Surf Life Saving volunteers evacuated a NSW Far South Coast beach after more than 50 sharks were sighted off the sandbar on Sunday afternoon, November 15.
The Broulee Surfers Surf Life Saving club thanked the Moruya Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew for alerting them to quite a few "gilled friends hanging with us at South Brou".
Ted Pettigrove was Broulee's patrol captain with his dad and club president, Gary Pettrigove, also on patrol among a dozen volunteers.
A warm and sunny day, Gary said there were 2-300 people at the beach and about 60 people in the water.
A weekly ocean swimming group had already entered and exited Broulee waters that morning and Nippers children were doing proficiency swims 80 metres out.
The tide was out so most people were wading on the sandbar, except for surfboarders, Gary said.
As Nippers finished about midday, beachgoers approached the patrol saying they saw "really big fish" near Bengello Creek, Gary said.
A radio call told them about 40 sharks were heading north from that area and a helicopter was on its way.
Volunteers evacuated South Brou Beach and rushed to warn others along the stretch towards the Moruya Airport.
Meanwhile, the helicopter kept an eye on the shiver of 1-1.5 metre long sharks, whose species Gary said was not identified.
The sharks appeared to be hunting fish together and in groups of five just off the sandbar.
The #Moruya#Lifesaver crew undertaking a few preventative actions with over 50 sharks 🦈 sighted between Moruya & #Broulee with both Broulee SLSC & our crew taking actions to ensure all were safe. Remember, swim at a patrolled beach between the red & yellow flags. #lifesaverhelopic.twitter.com/dqyxmIbqaP— Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopters (@Lifesaverhelo) November 15, 2020
Gary said Surf Life Saving volunteers were out on boards, on the IRB (inflatable rescue boat), the ATV (all terrain vehicle), radios and at the water's edge.
Some surfboarders and divers chose to stay in the water and a visiting family chose to go to North Broulee Beach despite the risks.
Gary said there was not much rescuers could do when ocean users refused to leave the water.
The chopper crew estimated there were 50 sharks in total.
The patrol gave beachgoers the "all-clear" to enter the water at 3pm.
Gary said that was the third time he had ever rung the shark alarm in his 20 years of Broulee patrols.
The first was a decade ago, where 11 hammerhead sharks were spotted, and the second was a white pointer sighting.
He said Shark Bay used to be a breeding area for hammerheads, before Broulee Island connected to the mainland.
Gary said school sharks were so small they were not usually dangerous to humans, and there were always sharks living in South Coast waters.
There have been several other shark sightings in the Broulee to Moruya area over the past decade.
Gary said all rescuers involved on the day had been vigilant, and he received positive feedback from others.
"We can only see what we see," he said.
"Sharks are in their natural habitat. They don't see humans as prey normally.
"We're there as water safety. We can't stop sharks, but we can give maximum safety."
Gary said to limit encounters with sharks, don't go out too deep, surf alone or swim at dawn and dusk.
Rescuers urged all beach users to stay between the red and yellow flags.