Surfers caught unaware as shark drops in on drone video off Australia
An Australian drone operator has told of his urgent efforts to raise the alarm after a shark made an unexpected appearance in his video, coming disturbingly close to unsuspecting surfers
David Finlay had only owned his drone for about a week when he took it to Surf Beach on Monday morning, following reports the beach was closed due to a shark sighting. The creature could not be found and the beach re-opened soon afterwards.
Finlay returned to the beach about 5pm, only intending the test the capabilities of his new machine.
"I was just testing the image recognition, where you can get it to track a particular image. It was tracking a surfer in a dark wetsuit. It was almost flying itself at that point."
His footage captures the moment he realises there's a shark near the surfers.
"Holy – there's a shark out there," he can be heard telling a bystander. "There's a shark right under the surfers. You got a mobile phone?"
The camera goes momentarily still as he takes control of the drone, about 300 metres from where he was standing.
Then he ran.
"I could see it with my own eyes, circling the area," he said.
"That was the first thing I thought about was, 'how can I let these guys know?'
"I ran down the beach and tried to find a lifeguard, but of course it was after lifeguard hours.
"I let some of the surfers know who were coming out of the water. But I was reassured by the time I got down there. I'd monitored the shark the whole time I'd been running, and it continued to move away from the surfers."
Reviewing the footage later, Finlay would see a dark grey figure had been in the frame all along.
Commentators have since told him the shark was likely a grey nurse, unlikely to have attacked.
Finlay acknowledges many surfers would rather not know how close they come to the ocean's apex predators. But if surveillance is to occur, drone technology undoubtedly has a role to play, he says.
"I think a lot has been done already down in Kiama in terms of shark safety, especially after Brett [Connellan] got attacked at Bombo Beach last year," he said.
"There's a shark buoy that monitors that area around Surf and Kendalls beaches, and yet the shark warning never went off [Monday evening].
"It shows the value of having that aerial footage. It's able to peer through the glare of the water. It's a good use for [the technology]."
- Illawarra Mercury