Shark kills newlywed as she paddleboards at Sandals resort

Mortuary personnel transport the body of an American female tourist after a fatal shark attack near the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort  in Nassau
A jet ski operator who was on the beach at the time said he saw a shark, measuring about 14ft long, pull the paddleboard underwater - DANTE CARRER/REUTERS

A newlywed on her honeymoon in The Bahamas was killed by a large shark while paddleboarding in the water near the five-star resort where she was staying.

The 44-year-old American woman was in the water with her new husband about three-quarters of a mile off the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort on the island of New Providence when the attack happened on Monday. The couple had married just the day before.

A jet ski operator who was on the beach at the time said he saw a shark, measuring about 14ft-long, pull the paddleboard underwater.

“When I saw it was only the guy standing on the board, I said (to myself), she must have fallen off. Then you could actually hear the faint shouts of him screaming for help,” the jet ski operator told The Nassau Guardian, a local newspaper.

“It was crazy because I watched them push out from the beach. They [were] side by side and laughing and talking. They just got married yesterday.”

A lifeguard witnessed the attack and went out in a rescue boat to retrieve the victim and her husband. There was blood on the paddleboard and the shark was swimming around it, witnesses said.

“CPR was administered to the victim, however she suffered serious injuries to the right side of her body, including the right hip region and also her right upper limb,” said Sgt Desiree Ferguson, from the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

In a statement, the Sandals resort said: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of a guest while on a paddleboarding activity nearly a mile from the shore.”

People gather on the resort's pier following the fatal attack
The attack happened just half a mile from where a 21-year-old Californian woman, Jordan Lindsey, was killed by a shark in 2019 - DANTE CARRER/REUTERS

While fatal shark attacks are highly unusual, there have been others in recent years in the Bahamas.

Last month, a 47-year-old German woman went missing in an apparent shark attack while on a diving trip off the island of Grand Bahama. She was reportedly attacked by a tiger shark off an area known as Tiger Beach.

In September last year, a 58-year American woman was killed while snorkelling near Green Cay. Witnesses said they thought the attack was carried out by a bull shark – one of the most dangerous species, along with tiger sharks and great whites.

The attack happened just half a mile from where a 21-year-old Californian woman, Jordan Lindsey, was killed by a shark in 2019.

In August last year, an eight-year-old British boy was attacked by sharks and sustained injuries that required a three-hour operation. Finley Downer, from Kettering in Northants, was bitten on both legs by nurse sharks. The species is normally considered to be docile but they can grow to up to 14ft in length and occasionally will attack.

‘It’s a probability issue’

The chances of being killed by a shark, whether in The Bahamas or anywhere else, remain very slim: about one in four million.

Worldwide, there were nine fatal attacks in 2021, 10 in 2020, two in 2019 and four in 2018, according to the International Shark Attack File. Most fatal attacks occur in the US and Australia.

The number of shark attacks has grown as the global population has increased and as more people spend time in the water, the ISAF argues.

The fact that there have been three fatal shark attacks in The Bahamas in the last year cannot be considered statistically significant, said Gavin Naylor, the International Shark Attack File’s programme director. “We’ve had two fatalities in two weeks, which always raises eyebrows. But until we see more of a trend, I don’t think it is worrying. If we were to see another one or two in the same area, we would be looking into it.”

More than eight million tourists visited The Bahamas this year, beating the previous record of 7.2 million visitors in 2019. The country’s crystal-clear waters are home to a range of shark species, including tiger sharks, bull sharks, reef sharks, hammerheads and oceanic white tip sharks.

“There’s a lot of sharks in The Bahamas and there are a lot of people going in the water. It’s a probability issue”, Prof Naylor said.

‘Be aggressively defensive’

One factor which can contribute to the likelihood of an attack is if tour operators tip “chum” or mashed-up fish blood and bones into the water to attract sharks for visitors to observe. “If you put food into the water, it’s like ringing a dinner bell. It’s Pavlovian. It makes them bolder,” according Prof Naylor.

Climate change may also be having an impact. “Climate change will cause sharks’ food sources to move around, and if the food moves closer to shore, then of course the sharks will follow.”

Experts advise that if a shark is about to attack, the best strategy is to hit it on the nose, preferably with a pole or spear. “If you do not have anything to poke with, use your hand, but remember that the mouth is close to the nose, so be accurate,” the ISAF says on its website.

If the worst should happen and a shark attacks, all-out aggression is the only option. “If a shark actually gets you in its mouth, we advise to be as aggressively defensive as you are able. Pound the shark in any way possible. Try to claw at the eyes and gill openings, two very sensitive areas.”

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