A man who risked his safety today to help a sick and injured hammerhead shark swim out to sea believes the shark knew he was just trying to help.

The 3m hammerhead was spotted off Te Arai Pt, north of Auckland, sending people scurrying out of the water.

But as it continued to circle for several hours, onlookers realised something was wrong.

Cameron Lambert, from Aotearoa Surf, was working at the beach hiring surfboards when he saw everyone had jumped out of the water. The 15-year-old headed down to the beach and saw the disoriented hammerhead.

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"You could see it was [disoriented] - they never come in that shallow. Hammerheads are very timid and scared of everyone so it was obviously sick."

The shark eventually entered a rockpool and began thrashing, apparently unable to find its way out.

"It looked like it didn't know what was going on. It was rolling on its side, once it got in there it rolled on its back. We tried to tip it back up again. At first we thought it would come right and go out."

He and several other swimmers tried to guide the shark back out but it kept swimming back in to shore.

Cameron Lambert, 15, was working at the beach when he saw the
Cameron Lambert, 15, was working at the beach when he saw the "disoriented" 3m shark heading for the shore. Photo / Supplied

Lambert was "wary" and tried to avoid the shark's head. "But I've been in and around sharks all the time surfing here so I wasn't surprised one was in the water with people. Usually they are there - you just don't see them. I was just keeping my wits about me."

Spear fisherman Rudy Parlak had just returned to the beach after a walk and saw what was happening. He donned his wetsuit, mask and fins and dived in to help.

"The other guys were really brave - they went in there with nothing on," said Parlak, 53.

"They didn't have masks or anything on, so they couldn't observe it underwater. I just got in to try to see what was going on and get water through its gills."

The huge fish was exhausted and seemed to have stopped swimming. Parlak could see underwater that the gills were closed.

"I took the fish - it was almost 3m long - and was holding it like a baby," he said. He swam it out to sea and tried to open its gills in the current.

"He went to the bottom and I was diving with him. Then it seemed like he came back alive again and I thought 'Hallelujah!'"

"Then he just turned back at me and I thought, 'I've got to get out of here'."

Sadly, the shark was badly wounded around its head, and Parlak thinks it may have been blinded by its injuries. He also suspected it may have eaten something poisonous.

Rudy Parlak, 53, wrapped his arms around the hammerhead and swam with it back out to sea. Photo / Supplied
Rudy Parlak, 53, wrapped his arms around the hammerhead and swam with it back out to sea. Photo / Supplied

Parlak believes the shark did not survive its injuries.

"I doubt it. I've tried to save beached whales in the past. It doesn't matter how much you do, they end up beached.

"But you never know what might happen - I thought maybe it was tangled in something and if I could help, then I had to try."

Although Parlak was cautious, he believes the exhausted shark knew the group was trying to help and let them guide it back out.

Parlak estimated the shark was about 400kg. "It's the biggest I've ever seen in person. I've seen lots of bronze whalers, blue sharks, mako, but I've never seen a big hammerhead before - it was beautiful."

He said the experience will stick with him forever.

"I've never ever done anything like this. I've swum with dolphins and killer whales but this was different."