A surfer dragged from his board and mauled by a two-metre shark was circled by the predator as he tried to make it back to shore.
Glen Folkard, 44, known as "Lenny", was in a serious but stable condition in hospital last night after being attacked while surfing off Redhead Beach, south of Newcastle, yesterday afternoon.
More than 100 people were in the water when the shark attacked. Witnesses in the surf said Mr Folkard was lying on his board about 20 metres from a large group of surfers when the shark struck about 4.40pm.
Believed to be a bull shark, it took a large chunk out of Mr Folkard's thigh as well as his board before dragging him underwater, witnesses said.
He was able to shake himself free and get to the surface. Several surfers came to his aid as he tried to paddle to safety and helped him catch a wave into shore.
One witness, who asked to be identified only as Peter, said the injured surfer was surrounded by red foam as he paddled in.
"His skin was really grey; he obviously lost quite a lot of blood."
Surf lifesavers, along with a doctor and paramedic on the beach, administered first aid before paramedics arrived and took the victim to the John Hunter Hospital.
Mr Folkard, who owns the Downunder tattoo parlour in Charlestown, is in a serious but stable condition with a deep wound to an upper thigh.
Lifeguards evacuated more than 100 surfers and swimmers from the water and said they were closing the beach indefinitely.
Peter said that surfers remained in the water after lifesavers sounded the shark alarm, adding that it was "bizarrely calm" on the beach.
"It was kind of like Jaws, you know, the scene at the start ... where everybody's pulled out of the water and it's a hot day and the water's inviting, and no one's in it."
Nathan Visscher, who was one of several surfers who came to Mr Folkard's aid, said: "He just started yelling 'help, I need help'. I saw a trail of blood coming from him and then his board popped back up.
"He was able to get back on his board and try and paddle away but he was pretty disoriented."
Another surfer, Tony James, said he saw the shark - estimated to be more than two metres long - follow Mr Folkard and circle him as he was trying to get to safety.
"It's just hit him and took him under for a bit," he said.
"He's managed to get to the surface but I saw it start to follow him."
The Westpac rescue helicopter began air patrols after the attack and spotted several large groups of sharks off Redhead and Blacksmiths Beach. There were also reports of sharks off Bar Beach and Newcastle yesterday.
The patrol saw clusters of sharks as big as 4.5 metres close to the shore, including one that came within 10 metres of an unsuspecting surfer.
All Lake Macquarie beaches have been closed until after further inspections today.
Dr David Powter, a marine scientist and senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle, said there had been "quite a few" reports of shark sightings close to shore in recent weeks.
He said in the past month some of the currents moving up and down the coastline had been closer to shore than usual. "That's brought the bait fish in, which inevitably will bring the predators in - including sharks."
- Sydney Morning Herald