AERIAL beach patrols detect as few as one in eight sharks and give the public "an inflated sense of protection against shark attack", a damning state government report says.
The findings cast doubt on whether shark patrols protect bathers from harm, and call into question the millions of dollars in government funding, sponsorship and donations poured into patrols across Australia each year.
The world-first study by the NSW Department of Primary Industries was based on a trial at Jervis Bay on the south coast, using artificial sharks placed at various depths.
It found fixed-wing aircraft crews spotted just 12.5 per cent of the dummies, while helicopters - the main form of government-funded patrols in NSW - detected 17.1 per cent.
The findings, released last year, concluded that more experienced crew were not necessarily better shark spotters, and that observers missed high numbers of the artificial sharks, even at "shallower depths than those at which potentially dangerous sharks inhabit".
"This is a clear concern when the purpose of these patrols is to provide a warning of shark presence to the beach-going public," the report stated.
It comes amid a string of shark incidents off the NSW coast this summer. He was not injured.
The state government has enlisted Newcastle Helicopters to conduct aerial shark patrols this summer.
A pilot, Barry Sandry, insisted aerial patrols were a valuable warning system.