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Shark attacks American tourist in Turks and Caicos, police say

By Rebekah Riess and Lauren Mascarenhas, CNN

(CNN) — A shark attacked a 22-year-old woman from Connecticut while she was snorkeling at a resort in Turks and Caicos Wednesday, according to a release from the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force.

The woman was snorkeling with a friend around 3 p.m. local time when a shark attacked them, police said. A resort employee then called police for an ambulance, according to the release.

The employee told police that the victim “had her leg bitten off by a shark,” the release said.

Officers of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, along with an ambulance, arrived on the scene and took the woman to the Cheshire Hall Medical Centre, where she remains in serious condition, police said.

Big Blue Collective, an eco-adventures and water sports company in the Turks and Caicos Islands, said in a statement on Thursday, “The calm, quick and measured response from one of our captains and office team meant that the victim was extracted from the ocean and dispatched in the ambulance in 15 minutes, saving them from a potentially life-threatening situation.”

The company called the attack, which it said happened in clear, calm waters, “unfortunate” and “what is known in diving circles as a case of mistaken identity,” according to the statement.

The victim and her friend were on a private trip aboard a private vessel unrelated to one of Big Blue Collective’s excursions at the time of the attack by a presumed Caribbean reef shark, the company’s statement said.

Shark attacks are rare

While officials are urging beachgoers to take regular safety precautions ahead of Memorial Day weekend, shark attacks are extremely rare, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

The number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide decreased last year, which tied with 2020 for the fewest number of reported incidents in the last 10 years, according to the Florida group. They reported that snorkelers and divers accounted for 9% of shark bite incidents.

The University of Florida experts distinguish between unprovoked attacks, which they say provide insight into the behavior of sharks and those that are prompted by outside circumstances, like fishing lines cast in feeding areas.

Two men in the Florida Keys were bitten by sharks last week while fishing. In one case, a shark bit an angler on the foot after it had been reeled in and onto the dock where he was fishing, officials said.

In the case of a shark attack, the University of Florida group advises a proactive response. They say hitting a shark on the nose can help temporarily curtail the attack. If the shark bites, they suggest clawing at its eyes and gill openings.

“You should not act passively if under attack as sharks respect size and power,” the group writes.

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