A Connecticut woman is in serious condition after she was bitten by a shark while snorkeling in Turks and Caicos, authorities said.
Authorities in the Royal Turks and Caicos said the woman and her friend were on a private snorkeling trip around 3 p.m. local time Wednesday when the woman was attacked by the shark.
The woman was “severely injured” in the attack, the local Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) said. An employee at a nearby resort who contacted police after the incident claimed the woman “had her leg bitten off by a shark,” according to a news release from the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force. Authorities, however, have not confirmed the extent of the victim’s injuries.
The DECR said the women were at the Bone Yard dive site in Princess Alexandra National Park, a marine-protected area in the islands, on Wednesday afternoon. The two friends were the only people in the water when a presumed Caribbean reef shark attacked the victim in what officials described as “a case of mistaken identity,” meaning the shark may have believed the woman was an animal usually hunted for prey.
A dive boat captain contacted emergency officials and jumped into action immediately after the attack, authorities said.
The captain took the women back into the boat and rushed them to shore where an ambulance was waiting. The victim was taken to Cheshire Hall Medical Centre in Providenciales in serious condition, police said.
The woman was later airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, according to authorities. There was no update on her condition as of Friday morning.
David Cochran, a shark expert at Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium, said this incident serves as an important reminder as summer and vacation season begins.
“It’s more likely that it was a large shark,” Cochran said. “They have enormous pressure in their jaws, and that’s what can cause an injury like that. A lot of time, when we’re out swimming or snorkeling or scuba diving, especially close to the surface, we can really resemble a normal prey item for the shark.”
Cochran advised tourists to “be mindful of your environment and your surroundings” when embarking on a snorkeling or diving expedition.
Experts also recommend staying calm during a shark sighting, as sudden movements (thrashing, screaming) give off signals of prey. Anyone who sees a shark should get out of the water and inform others in the vicinity.
“Though incidents such as these are highly unusual in the Turks & Caicos Islands, swimmers, snorkelers and divers, and boat operators are reminded to exercise caution on the water,” the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources said.
The Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force is investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack.