The 41-year-old man was among a group of surfers when he was attacked by a large shark at Shelly Beach, near Ballina, just before 10am on Monday. His fellow surfers bravely pulled him from the water, but the man died at the scene.

“We believe he was surfing with up to four men – two were very close to him, they rendered assistance and brought him to shore,” said Detective Inspector Cameron Lindsay, according to ABC News. “Two other surfers paddled in to help out and help with his injuries. Unfortunately they could not stop the bleeding and at this stage we believe he died of blood loss.”

A shark expert has been called in to help police identify and find the fish responsible for the attack. “We are now concentrating on searching the area and seeing if we can locate that shark. We believe it was a very large shark,” said Det Insp Lindsay.

Associated Press reported Ballina mayor David Wright as saying: “Both legs were gone; he bled to death very quickly.”

Mr Wright told ABC News that the victim was well-known in the local surfing community. “Some surfers were out on their boards…and during that time a shark has come up behind a board paddler who was just sitting on his board and it’s taken the back of the board and part of the gentleman.”

Beaches in the area have been closed and surf lifesavers have been using jet skis to search for the shark.

The incident followed a less serious shark attack on Sunday at Seven Mile Beach, about 20km north of Shelly Beach. In that incident the victim was able to drive himself to hospital with back injuries after being knocked off his board and bitten, and a shark expert from the Southern Cross University doubts the same fish was responsible.

“If it does prove that the second attack was a Great White then I can certainly say they were different fish, because the first attack was definitely not a Great White judging by the wounds,” said Dr Daniel Bucher, as reported by ABC.

A 50-year-old British man, Paul Wilcox, died off Australia’s east coast in September after a suspected attack by a Great White when he was swimming about 15m from the shore at Byron Bay, in New South Wales.

More recently, the beaches at Newcastle were closed for a record nine days in a row in January after a spate of Great White sightings.

But it is Western Australia that has borne the brunt of Great White attacks, with eight fatalities in the last five years. The last occurred in December, when 17-year-old diver Jay Muscat was killed while spear-fishing off Cheynes Beach, near Albany.