Surf Life Saving NSW has praised the ground-breaking Australian Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle Service’s (AUAVS) technology that sighted a school of sharks off Palm Beach, closing the Northern Beaches location for an hour.

At about 10.20AM on Tuesday 3 January, an AUAVS Pilot spotted a school of approximately 10 hammerhead sharks off the coast near Palm Beach and immediately alerted patrol, with the beach closed for nearly an hour.

Swimmers exited the water swiftly, with one further out to sea brought in by jet ski, while the last to leave the water was applauded by a crowd of beachgoers who followed instructions and listened to lifesavers and lifeguards through the entire process.

“As part of our contract with the Department of Primary Industries, Surf Life Saving NSW conducts regular flights to monitor for sharks and other marine life,” said SLSNSW Operations Manager for Public Safety, Brent Manieri.

“It’s not particularly common for us to see a shark – while we sighted just over 180 in the last 12 months, those sightings came from more than 32,000 flights, so in context it isn’t a large number.

“Even less common is for us to sight a school of so many juvenile sharks, and I’m very pleased with the communications between the UAV Pilot and the patrol teams on the beach. Whilst hammerhead sharks are not one of the main shark species of concern the actions taken by the pilot and patrol emphasise that the technology works and is engrained in our patrol operations”

The beach closure brings into focus the UAV technology and comes less than a month after the Minister for Agriculture, Dugald Saunders confirmed a renewed funding package for three years to continue UAV surveillance at 50 key coastal locations in NSW, including Palm Beach.

Additionally, the Department of Primary Industries will position four rapid response vessels (RRVs) at strategic locations along the coast to assist first responders in the unfortunate event of a serious shark incident.

The renewed funding will allow SLSNSW to continue to ensure the most modern assets are utilised allowing for the trial of extended line-of-sight UAV surveillance flights, which will deliver an improved capability to detect target shark species and provide early warning to lifesavers and lifeguards.

“We’ve seen today just how important this technology is as part of our overall lifesaving efforts and it’s fantastic to see that we will be able to expand our abilities over the coming months and years,” Brent continued.

“We want to ensure beachgoers have peace of mind when they visit the coastline this summer, and in bolstering our UAV surveillance program, we are better positioned than ever to provide that.”

Tuesday 3 January 2023