Is the perfect photo worth a scar? Katarina Zarutskie, a 19-year-old Instagram model and student at the University of Miami, learned the hard way this summer while vacationing in the Bahamas’ Exumas islands with her boyfriend and his family.
During the vacation, the teen noticed some people swimming and snorkeling in the water where a group of sharks had gathered off of the Staniel Cay marina. She decided to take get in the water to take a picture with the sharks, according to BuzzFeed News.
Despite her boyfriend’s family’s initial skepticism, Zarutskie’s ease and comfort in the ocean stemming from her experience in water sports prompted her to go for the shot, she said.
“From my previous knowledge from surfing and scuba diving, I know nurse sharks are usually very safe,” she told BBC News. “I’ve seen countless photos of people with them on Instagram.”
According to National Geographic, nurse sharks are bottom-dwellers, and typically harmless when it comes to humans. They will bite, however, if stepped on or bothered in their habitats, National Geographic said.
The nursing and business double-major — whose follower count has nearly tripled since the story broke — had been taking a series of patriotic-themed photos for her account when a local resident suggested she lie on her back amid the herd of sharks.
Her boyfriend’s father, who was holding the camera, managed to capture the sequence of shots during which the shark attacked.
“I leaned back, and then that shark, he came and he bit down on my arm,” Zarutskie told BuzzFeed. Zarutskie recalled to NBC News, “He had my wrist in his mouth and I could feel his teeth sinking into my arm.”
The model said she struggled underneath the surface for several seconds before being able to remove her wrist from the shark’s mouth, rise to the surface and cover her wound to prevent the flow of blood from attracting the other fish, BuzzFeed reported.
Images from the incident show Zarutskie methodically walking out of the water. “At that point your body has so much adrenaline going and you just have to get out of the situation, but I stayed extremely calm,” she told BuzzFeed, “I am lucky to have my hand. It is a testament to how calm I stayed.”
According to the BBC, Zarutskie got stitches and was treated with antibiotics. She told the outlet she still has shark teeth fragments left in her wound, which will scar.
David Hocher, the owner of the Staniel Cay marina where Zarutskie was bit, confirmed through a photo to NBC News that the site of the attack has a sign warning guests to swim “at their own risk,” adding that they “can and do bite.”
In an email, Hocher told the outlet, “These animals are considered quite docile but can and do bite on occasion, normally when they mistake a hand or fingers for a piece of food.”
The experience hasn’t taken away the young social media influencer’s love of the ocean, but she admitted she does consider the incident a “big learning lesson,” according to BuzzFeed.
“They are wild animals and it’s an uncontrollable situation,” Zarutskie told the outlet. “I would recommend people to do it but be smart about it. You are in their home.”