David Quinlivan was paddling a surf ski near the New South Wales town of Forster, 185 miles north of Sydney, when he was attacked. He fell into the water but got back on the surf ski and managed to get closer to shore, where bystanders helped him from the water.
Warren Thompson said he and others ran into the surf to help Mr Quinlivan. “He had lost his paddle but was able to climb back on to the ski and caught a wave to the shore,” he said.
“It looked to us like he was having a heart attack. When we reached him, he told us to stay out of the water.”
Mr Quinlivan was flown by helicopter for surgery. The shark had bit his ankle and the state ambulance service described the injury as serious. He was treated by paramedics at the scene before being airlifted to hospital.
“The injuries consist of some lacerations and puncture wounds to his lower left leg,” acting inspector Matthew Hinton said. “Surgery will have to be undertaken to repair damage.”
Mr Hinton said officials were working to identify the shark species. “The species and size are unknown at this stage,” he said. “We’re working with the department of fisheries in regards to identifying the species and size.”
Two weeks ago, a 38-year-old surfer suffered life-threatening injuries when he was attacked by a shark at Port Macquarie, 60 miles north of Forster.
Three weeks earlier, a 52-year-old surfer was seriously injured as he repeatedly punched a shark that mauled him off Evans Head, 140 miles north of Port Macquarie, in the 11th attack in five months – including one fatality – along a 12-mile stretch of northern New South Wales coast. In July, champion Australian surfer Mick Fanning, 34, survived a shark attack caught on film in South Africa, by punching it and swimming to safety.
In February, a 41-year-old Japanese tourist was killed around the tourist town of Ballina, also in northern New South Wales. The only fatal attack in Australia since then was in July, when a 46-year-old diver was killed off the island state of Tasmania.
Sharks are common off Australia’s beaches, but fatal attacks are rare. The country has averaged fewer than two deadly attacks per year in recent decades.
The first great white sharks were tagged last week as part of the New South Wales government’s new monitoring measures to protect north-coast communities following the spate of attacks in recent months.
New South Wales premier Mike Baird said more needed to be done. “These attacks are unprecedented, they’re extraordinary and they are going to require action,” he said. “The local mayor has done a great job consulting, but, look, we have to do more.”