California Instagram model’s shark-bite moment goes viral, but was it really a ‘social media injury?’


At first, Katarina Zarutskie wasn’t going to share on social media the images that captured the moment when she was bitten by a shark in the Bahamas.

The photos, which were taken more than a month ago by her boyfriend’s father with his iPhone, show the moment unfolding in three stages — from when the more-than-a-dozen nurse sharks swam peacefully around her as she floated on the water’s clear surface, to when one shark came over and bit her wrist, and afterwards as she held her arm up in the air for fear of getting blood into the water.

When Zarutskie told a friend about the incident a month later, the friend urged her to post the photos online — so she did.

“And it blew up.”

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Now, Zarutskie is feeling the heat from a story spreading across the internet like wildfire.

Good Morning America, Access Hollywood and countless local media requests flooded in during the day. At night, Zarutskie fielded requests from major European outlets such as the BBC.

“It’s been a whirlwind, I haven’t even slept,” said the Laguna Beach native. “It’s been non-stop calls from I don’t even know where.”

Some news stories have portrayed her in a bad light, she said. And many of the thousands of online comments have been harsh – one calling her a “stupid girl” and another stating “Darwin at its finest.”

But who is this “Instagram model,” as described in the countless headlines about the incident?

Zarutskie, who moved to Miami recently to study nursing, grew up surfing Laguna Beach and around the Orange County coastline.  She often traveled to Hawaii’s North Shore and other places to seek out waves.

In all her years in the ocean, she’s never had a fear of sharks.

“I have a huge respect for nature and the ocean,” she said. “Even when we’re surfing, we know we look like sea lions. We have to be careful, we’re in their domain. We understand it’s their home, we’re blessed to be in their home and we know nature is giving us a gift.”

She said she wasn’t swimming with the sharks to take a selfie, but instead just enjoying a moment connecting with nature.

Locals nearby feeding the fish said they weren’t aggressive, so she jumped in to swim with them.

She didn’t even know her boyfriend’s father was taking photos, she said. She jokes that he doesn’t even know what Instagram is and can hardly figure out how to use his iPhone.

Zarutskie needed stitches after the incident, and said she still has a piece of shark tooth in her arm. She hopes it will expel itself so she doesn’t need surgery. Her father is a doctor, and as a nursing student she knew the best thing to do was to stay calm and wash the wound.

“A shark bite or a puncture wound is a dangerous bite, no one knows how to treat it because it’s not a common thing,” she said. “It’s been a big learning experience.”


In her GMA interview, she said it felt like the shark clamped down on her wrist.  Immediately, she put her hand over her head.

“I knew I couldn’t get blood in the water – when they see blood, that means food,” she told GMA. “My adrenaline was kicking in and I knew I had to get out of the water.”

Zarutskie doesn’t regret posting the images. The moment, she hopes, will help raise awareness for the ocean and sharks.

Another perk of social media stardom? She said she’s had countless new followers on her Instagram after the images went viral.

She doesn’t fault the 5-foot shark for taking a bite. If others are visiting the same region and want to swim with the sharks, just use caution, she says.  Though they are known for not being an aggressive species, apparently there are exceptions.

“They just have to realize they are in (the sharks’) home, it’s an uncontrollable situation,” she said. “They are a wild animal.

“I love sharks and I see this as a platform to bringing awareness to sharks and oceans.”

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