A male surfer has died after being bitten by a shark near Kingscliff in northern NSW
A male surfer has died after being bitten by a shark near Kingscliff in northern NSW.
A community is reeling after a three-metre great white shark killed a man at Kingscliff in northern NSW on Sunday morning, the first fatal attack in the state in five years.

Police said the Queensland man, aged between 50 and 60, was surfing off South Kingscliff Beach, north of the Salt Surf Life Saving Club.

Surf Life Saving NSW said the shark attacked the Gold Coast man and bit the back of his thigh after 10am. Nearby surfers rushed to the aid of the man. The shark reportedly circled the three men and rammed one of their boards.

The man died from his wounds at 10.40am.

"[D]espite the best efforts of nearby surfers and bystanders who fought off the shark and got the man to the shore and rendered first aid, the man died on the beach," Surf Life Saving NSW said in a statement.

"NSW Department of Primary Industries shark biologists assessed aerial photographs taken of the shark and bite marks on the victim and concluded that the shark responsible for the attack was a large, three-metre white shark," it said.

NSW Police said they were granted permission to kill the shark, but the animal disappeared from the area about 1pm.

"Under the Department of Primary Industry's shark Incident response protocols, permission may be granted to destroy the shark, if it is considered an ongoing threat to human life," NSW Police said in a statement.

"Due to concerns that the shark had to be fought off by other board-riders, and that it remained in the vicinity for several hours after the attack, police were granted permission to destroy the shark.

"Police and local rescue helicopter crews monitored the area for some hours; however, the shark left the vicinity about 1.15 pm and has not been seen since. No police firearm was discharged."

Surf Life Saving closed the beach and police instructed surfers to get out of the water following the incident. Beaches from Kingscliff to nearby Cabarita, on the state's north coast, will be closed for the next 24-hours.

Police will liaise with the Department of Primary Industry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death.

James Owen, a Tweed Shire councillor and a member of the Salt Surf Life Saving Club near where the surfer died, said the death was "a terrible, tragic event".

Jet skis were also deployed to get people out of the water, although some surfers were still out further along the coast at Cabarita, Mr Owen said.

"It's a bit of a shock for everyone at the moment," he said. "There's a very sombre mood here.

"I don't know of a previous fatal shark incident in this area. For whatever reason, this shark's decided to have a bite."

Mr Owen said other surfers in the water had recounted that the shark had been persistent and they had "had to defend themselves" when trying to help the stricken surfer.

NSW Ambulance said they were called to Casuarina Beach at Kingscliff just after 10am. The first of three crews arrived to treat the man they described as in his fifties for "a critical leg injury".

"When you get a call to attend a shark attack, you never really know the full extent of the damage until you get on scene," said ambulance duty operations manager Terence Savage. "This is a dreadful situation for everyone involved."

Authorities have praised the actions of nearby surfers who helped the man get back to shore and administered first aid.

"The actions of those people was nothing short of heroic in making every attempt to try to save this gentleman," NSW Police's Duty Officer Matt Kehoe told 9News.

"We'll be making some recommendations at a later stage in regards to their actions today, really heroic actions on their behalf."

Conditions on Sunday were overcast in the area and there was talk about bait fish in the area, Mr Owen said.

Great white sharks are active off that part of the coast near the border between NSW and Queensland at this time of year, one source told the Herald.

The number of deaths from sharks nationally averages about one per year. In NSW, there had been 66 fatalities from 204 shark bites over the past 150 years prior to Sunday's death.

The last fatal shark attack in NSW occurred five years ago at Shelly Beach, when Tadashi Nakahara, 41, who was popular in the local surfing community, was bitten.