(NBC) — Katarina Zarutskie was floating calmly in the ocean off the Bahamas’ Staniel Cay when she suddenly felt her arm being yanked down.
Zarutskie, a 19-year-old nursing student and Instagram model from Laguna Beach, California, had been swimming with nurse sharks when one bit her arm and started to drag her under the water last month. Her boyfriend’s father took several photos throughout the attack, capturing 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.”
When she got free of the shark’s bite, she swam to some steps — holding her bleeding arm out of the water to not tempt more sharks — and got out of the ocean.
Zarutskie, who attends the University of Miami, had been on vacation with her boyfriend and his family and had heard from locals that swimming with nurse sharks was a fun and safe activity. She did not swim with the sharks through a tour company or any organization that required payment, but, having grown up as a surfer in Southern California, she said she was not 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.
“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.”
Hocher sent NBC News a picture of a sign at the marina that warns guests that nurse sharks “can and do bite” and that visitors must “swim with the sharks at your own risk” — but Zarutskie said she did not see the sign.
Hocher also wrote that from the photos of the incident, it appeared that Zarutskie was in the water during feeding time and that having her arms outstretched and fingers exposed would have been tempting for the sharks.
Immediately after getting out of the water, Zarutskie went to a clinic at the marina and had her wound cleaned and wrapped. But after doing some research and learning of the high 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.”