Matt Wilkinson heard a nearby splash as he paddled his surfboard Wednesday, but could not see the great white shark.

The former pro surfer also heard a drone whirring overhead, and its recorded message urging him to hurry ashore.

Wilkinson paddled safely to shore at Sharpes Beach in New South Wales, Australia, sensing that he had just been involved in a close call with an apex predator.

“I got to the shore feeling a bit weird and the lifeguards showed me the footage and I realized how close it came without knowing it was there,” Wilkinson told Surf Life Saving New South Wales. “It looks like it’s going for my leg and it changed its mind.”

The footage, captured via an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operated by Surf Life Saving NSW, shows a small white shark in front of Wilkinson and circling to approach from behind.

The shark is only inches from Wilkinson’s feet before it quickly veers, perhaps spooked by the large drone.

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It was not the first close shark encounter for Wilkinson, who was in the lineup at J-Bay in South Africa when fellow World Surf League competitor Mick Fanning was harassed by a larger white shark in 2015.

“I feel grateful and pretty weird at the same time but happy it decided not to go me,” Wilkinson told Surf Life Saving NSW. “When I saw the footage I saw the similarities, like I had a yellow leg rope on and Mick’s board was yellow is what I was thinking about when I came in.

“I called my wife because I didn’t want her to see the footage before I saw it. She doesn’t want me surfing for a couple of days now.”

The government-funded UAV program, designed to detect the presence of sharks and other threats, is operated by Surf Life Saving NSW and used at 34 locations.

Said UAV operator Beau Monks of Wilkinson’s encounter: “ sort of came out of nowhere, then went right up to Matt. It moved pretty fast. I was tracking it and notified the lifeguards and used the speaker on the drone to get everyone out of the water. Within 10 seconds it was at the surfer and five seconds later it was gone.”

Sharpes Beach was ordered closed until Thursday.

–Image courtesy of Surf Life Saving NSW

 

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