A 44-year-old Boston woman was killed Monday after being bitten by a shark while paddleboarding in the Bahamas, making it at least the third attack in the area within the last six months.
The woman was paddling away from the shoreline near a resort in western New Providence when she was attacked around 11:15 a.m., the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement.
The woman and a male relative who was with her were retrieved from the water by a resort lifeguard’s boat and taken to shore, where she was given CPR. She suffered significant trauma to the right side of her body and was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency medical technicians, police said.
The incident was described as particularly unusual by Gavin Naylor, program director for the International Shark Attack Files at the University of Florida, whose shark attack records date to the 1700s.
A tiger shark is seen swimming near Grand Bahama Island. The shark attack Monday is unusual because the types of sharks in the Caribbean would typically not go after something as large as a paddleboard.
Though the Bahamas is known for sharks, the fact that this incident involved a paddleboard “is a bit weird,” he told HuffPost.
“Paddleboards are huge. You can’t mistake a paddleboard for a seal, besides which, the ones that mistake surfboards for seals are white sharks, and there are no white sharks in the warm water Caribbean area,” he said.
Sharks that are known to frequent the Bahamas include bull sharks, tiger sharks, blacktip sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and lemon sharks, he said.
“We just don’t know enough about it,” he said of Monday’s incident. “Maybe the shark bumped the board and the lady fell off.”
Shark attacks on humans are extremely unusual, particularly fatal ones, though several have been reported in recent months.
Two women are shown paddleboarding in Exuma, Bahamas. "Sharks try to keep a distance from people," said Gavin Naylor, program director for the International Shark Attack Files at the University of Florida.
Over the weekend, a 26-year-old Mexican woman died after being bitten by a shark while swimming near a floating structure off Melaque, in Jalisco, which is along the Pacific Ocean. She died Saturday from blood loss, a local official told The Associated Press.
A 47-year-old German woman is also believed to have died late last month after being attacked by a shark while diving off West End, Grand Bahama. The woman was pulled below the surface in an area called Tiger Beach and did not reappear, according to local reports.
In June, a 74-year-old Iowa woman was attacked by a shark near Taino Beach, Grand Bahama, while attempting to climb a boat ladder following a scuba dive. That woman, who lost a leg, later spoke out in support of sharks while calling it “a shame” that people will develop a fear of them over rare incidents like hers.
“I’ve done 524 dives. After the 524th is when the accident happened,” Heidi Ernst said in an interview in October.
Naylor said the recent number of shark bites could be purely coincidental. But they could also be related to high tourist traffic or sharks being habituated from frequent close contact with humans, particularly when sharks are hand-fed.
“It’s not out of the question that that has played some kind of influence in making these animals come closer,” Naylor said of what’s come to be called shark eco-tourism, an activity that he said is growing in the Bahamas. “Sharks try to keep a distance from people, probably more so than people try to keep a distance from sharks. They’re not particularly interested in people. If they were, then we’d see tens of thousands of shark bites a day because there’s lots of sharks in the water and lots of people.”
Naylor said he doesn’t think the recent incidents raise cause for concern but that if they increase, “then we’re going to start to wonder what’s going on.”
“I just wish people would take a little time to not only be preoccupied with the dangers a very few species of sharks seem to be credited with and more about how fascinating they are,” he said, while rattling off some species’ “superpowers,” which include the ability to glow in the dark, detect electrical currents and dive to extreme depths.
“These animals are really peculiar and fascinating, so I would like to put the fear of sharks to one side and let people enjoy their secrets,” he said.