- Katarina Zarutskie, a 19-year-old model and student at the University of Miami, was bitten by a nurse shark in June while vacationing in the Bahamas with her boyfriend and his family.
- As she posed for a photo in the water, one of the sharks bit her arm and dragged her underwater.
- Zarutskie told INSIDER that locals encouraged her to swim with the nurse sharks at Staniel Cay Marina.
- According to Zarutskie, she has been healing from the shark bite and has undergone multiple rounds of antibiotics to prevent infection, although doctors say that pieces of tooth are still in her arm.
- Zarutskie said that since her story has garnered attention she has received sexist backlash from people online.
Katarina Zarutskie, a 19-year-old model and student at the University of Miami, was enjoying a vacation in the Bahamas when it was abruptly cut short by a terrifying experience. While swimming with nurse sharks, a popular tourist activity in the Bahamas, a shark bit down on her arm and pulled her under the water.
On June 7, Zarutskie was visiting the Exuma Islands with her boyfriend and his family when she saw a group of nurse sharks swimming in the Staniel Cay marina.
Zarutskie told INSIDER that they had pulled into Staniel Cay marina for lunch. As they walked back from lunch, she spotted a group of nurse sharks swimming around. According to Zarutskie, other people were already swimming and snorkeling with them.
“I knew that these are usually very harmless sharks, and I’ve seen on Instagram that many people go swimming with them,” Zarutskie said. According to Exuma Online, swimming with nurse sharks is a “once in a lifetime adventure” commonly marketed to tourists. The website claims that nurse sharks are “typically harmless to humans.”
Zarutskie said that locals encouraged her to swim with the nurse sharks.
She said that her boyfriend and his family were “freaking out” at first, but for the first three minutes, she was happily wading in the water with the sharks. According to Zarutskie, a local man advised her to lean back in the water to “get a cool photo,” so she put her head back.
According to NBC News, Zarutskie did not participate in an organized tour to swim with the nurse sharks. David Hocher, the owner of the Staniel Cay marina, told INSIDER that the marina has a sign warning people that sharks “can and do bite.” However, Zarutskie told us that the sign was not prominently displayed and she did not see it.
Shortly after leaning back in the water, Zarutskie was bitten by a nearby nurse shark.
“About five seconds after I laid back, the shark bit my arm and took me underwater for a few seconds,” she told us. “It felt like 15 different people were squeezing my arm really, really hard.”
According to Zarutskie, her boyfriend and his family were able to hear the shark bite down on her arm, and they said it sounded like a “vacuum air seal.”
She said she quickly ripped her hand out of the shark’s mouth and got out of the water.
Zarutskie said that she made sure to stay calm. “If you screamed or freaked out, it would’ve been worse,” she said. After wrestling her arm out of the shark’s mouth, she said she waded back to the pier and held her arm above the water to avoid attracting more sharks.
She said that she immediately visited a clinic at the Staniel Cay marina to get her wound treated. After learning that shark bites carry a high risk of infection, she flew back to Florida the next day to receive further treatment. Zarutskie said that she has spent the past month recovering from the bite and taking multiple antibiotics to prevent infection. She said that doctors told her that there are still pieces of tooth in her arm, which might necessitate surgery.
However, she said that she “does not want to throw sharks under the bus.”
“I respect wildlife tremendously,” Zarutskie said. “They’re wild animals and it’s an uncontrollable situation. It’s important to remember to be careful.”
Hocher told INSIDER that interacting with nurse sharks is usually a safe activity, but the sharks do occasionally bite humans.
Hocher said that the nurse sharks have bitten people from time to time because they can mistake hands or feet for food. He said he has also seen nurse sharks bite people who grab their fins or hold their tails. However, he said that incidents like this happen fairly infrequently.
“If the guidelines are followed, it is a safe activity,” Hocher said, regarding whether or not tourists should interact with nurse sharks. “However, that is not to say that it is a ‘risk free’ activity. The sharks are still wild animals and the marina is not far from open ocean. I would only encourage interaction if people are comfortable and understand the risks.”
Zarutskie told INSIDER that since her story has garnered attention, she has faced sexist backlash.
Since the story of her shark bite went viral, Zarutskie’s Instagram went from having around 13,000 followers to 46,000 followers at the time of this post. Currently, her Instagram account is set to private. She said she has been receiving many “awful comments” from people who criticize her for being a “stupid blonde Instagram model” and who accused her of “just trying to be Insta-famous.”
The college student, who is pursuing a double major, told us that she has modeled professionally since she was 14 years old. “Multiple people have written novels about how I’m stupid, or made little snide remarks like, ‘Oh, if only she had a brain,'” she said.
“Some of these comments, especially from men, are very demeaning towards women,” she said. She said that she has been called a “bimbo” and a “dumb stupid blonde” multiple times.
“You were just dumb but lucky,” one Instagram user commented on her photo. Another wrote, “And being bitten from a shark is also your fault, but I guess you know that.”
Her boyfriend, who chose to remain anonymous, said he had been helping her delete the abusive comments and messages. He told INSIDER that some people have been writing some “really nasty things” in an attempt to “disrespect her” and “degrade her as a female.” Her boyfriend also said that some of the comments, especially from men, have been inappropriately sexual in nature.
Despite the negative backlash, Zarutskie said she’s doing her best to stay positive.
“Social media definitely makes it easier for people to say terrible things,” she said. “The best way to deal with it is to just delete them. It’s not worth your time.”
Zarutskie said that she feels blessed that her injury from the shark bite wasn’t more serious, and is grateful for the support from her boyfriend, friends, and family. She added: “You can’t let the haters get you down!”