A 19-year-old Instagram model and nursing student got the scare of her life last month. Katarina Zarutskie was on vacation with her boyfriend and his family in the Bahamas when she decided to float with nurse sharks.
The model narrowly avoided more serious injury after he forearm was bitten. She told NBC news how the shark grabbed hold of her arm and dragged her under the water.
Zarutskie had heard that nurse sharks were safe, so she decided to give it a try. She was floating calmly in the ocean off the Bahamas' Staniel Cay when the shark reached up and grabbed her.
Her boyfriend's father took several photos throughout the attack. He captured the exact moment that Zarutskie came in contact with the 5-foot-long shark.
"He had my wrist in his mouth and I could feel his teeth sinking into my arm," Zarutskie told NBC News on Monday. "I was pulled underwater for a few seconds and then ripped my wrist out of the shark’s mouth as fast as I could."
After she got free of the shark, Zarutskie swam to steps that led out of the water. At the same time, she made sure to keep her bleeding arm out of the water to prevent attracting more sharks.
Zarutskie heard from locals that swimming with nurse sharks was "fun" and "safe." She did not swim with the sharks through a tour company or any organization that required payment, reported NBC.
Because she grew up as a surfer in Southern California, she said she wasn't afraid to jump in the water near a marina.
"My boyfriend’s family was freaking out when I went to swim with the sharks and I was like, 'it’s fine,'" she said.
According to David Hocher, who owns Staniel Cay marina, people do get bitten from time to time while around the sharks. He said there is a sign at the marina that warns guests that the sharks "can and do bite" and visitors "swim with the sharks at your own risk."
"These animals are considered quite docile but can and do bite on occasion," Hocher wrote in an email. "Normally when they mistake a hand or fingers for a piece of food."
Zarutskie said she did not see the sign.
Hocher also commented that after seeing photos of the incident, it appeared that Zarutskie was in the water during feeding time. He also says her outstretched arms would have been attractive to the sharks.
Immediately after getting out of the water, Zarutskie went to a clinic at the marina and had her wound cleaned and wrapped. After learning of the risk of infection following a shark bite, Zarutskie decided to fly back to Florida the next day for further treatment.
"[The doctors] now believe that I still have pieces of the shark teeth in my arm and I will forever have a scar," said Zarutskie, who noted she was worried about the injury affecting her burgeoning modeling career. But, she added, "I am so fortunate that I still have my arm and my life."