Great White Shark Filmed Lurking Beneath Surfers in South Africa From Drone

Drone footage showing a large great white shark swimming beneath surfers off South Africa's southern coast has been released by National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). The video shows the shark in extremely close proximity to the group as they wait for waves off Plettenberg Bay, in the Western Cape Province.

Chris Fallows, a wildlife photographer and great white shark expert, told Newsweek these sorts of encounters probably take place a lot more than people realize. In this case the water was particularly clear. "When the water is dirty the sharks are there," he said. "It probably happens on a very frequent basis."

Due to a high number of reported White Shark sightings and close encounters, NSRI are appealing to the public exercise caution along the Southern Cape coastline, in particular around the coastline of Plettenberg Bay and between Mossel Bay and Jeffreys Bay.

— Sea Rescue South Africa (@NSRI) June 23, 2020

Fallows, who has been studying sharks since 1989 and runs Apex Shark Expeditions, said the great white in the video was patrolling the area and posed no threat to the surfers.

"You can see it comes across the surface, goes and has a look," he said. "It's in absolutely no way showing any indication of threatening behavior at all. I think that just vindicates what so many people have been saying for so long that sharks for the most part show very little interest in humans. I don't think it could be a more graphic display of that than what you see in that video.

"Even with the guy who paddles frantically to catch a wave—if you think of a cat and mouse, when a mouse runs the cat goes after it. Even with that, the shark still didn't trigger and push a more in depth investigation and attack.

"Sharks routinely patrol areas, but that doesn't necessarily mean attacking. These animals are super predators, but they're highly selective in terms of what they do attack. I think that's just a fantastic example of how sharks should not have the reputation they do have. Yes they're super predators, but they're very aware of their surroundings."

The footage was shot by 14-year-old Zach Berman who later posted the footage to Instagram. He told the South African he was was flying the drone to observe nature and was watching the sharks to see how close they got to the surfers.

"I noticed that the shark was heading from far down the beach towards where the surfers were and informed my dad's friends to get them out the water," he was quoted as saying.

"It was really scary, standing there with the remote control watching this shark head towards the surfers. You really don't know what to do in that situation."

The NSRI said the number of white shark sightings and close encounters in this region of South Africa had increased in recent weeks. This is normal for the time of year, as sharks gravitate towards certain areas to take advantage of certain prey, like seals that live closer to shore.

The NSRI said swimmers, body borders and surfers have to be extra cautious in waters along the Southern Cape coastline, particularly between Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay and Jeffreys Bay. Eyewitness accounts of sharks swimming near surfers were reported across the region.

It said there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of a shark encounter. This includes avoiding the water when birds, seals and dolphins are feeding nearby. It said to avoid deep water beyond the breakers, not to surf alone or at night, and not to enter the water if bleeding.

The close encounter comes as the population of great whites off the coast of South Africa appears to be in decline. The species has been absent from False Bay—a once popular feeding spot for the sharks—for about two years. Sightings have also declined in other areas along the coast, including Mossel Bay.

The disappearance was initially attributed to the arrival of killer whales in the region—a species known to attack and eat great whites. However, experts say this cannot explain such a great decline, and instead say poor fishing practices resulting in a fall in great white prey may be responsible.

Fallows is currently running a campaign called Shark Free Chips to raise awareness of the threats these sharks face. He said it was fantastic to see the drone footage of the shark with the surfers, but said it does not signal an increase in numbers. "I think people should be doing everything they possibly can so they stay in these environments," he said.

"[The video] really draws home, brings home the fact that we need to do everything we can to help conserve these animals. South Africa sharks are under tremendous pressure. This video really pushes home that we have very little to fear from them and sadly they have a huge amount to fear from us.

"For the surfers it probably wasn't the most beautiful thing—but it is a beautiful thing to see a temporary interaction between surfers and one of the world's greatest apex predators. I thought it was spectacular footage."

great white
Representative image of a great white shark iStock