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Shark bites off both hands of woman swimming during whale watching tour

Oceanic whitetip shark at Elphinstone Reef, November 6, 2016 ( Alexander Vasenin, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
October 22, 2019

A French tourist survived a shark attack despite the loss of both her hands and injuries to her body while she swam in the ocean off the coast of French Polynesia.

The 35-year-old woman was reportedly swimming during a whale-watching trip on Monday when an oceanic whitetip shark bit her on the chest and arms, according to the Telegraph. The woman had been swimming off the coast of Mo’orea – a popular honeymoon destination in the French Polynesian territory.

“Luckily for her, there were two nurses on the scene who could deliver first aid,” said firefighter Jean-Jacques Riveta. “When we got to the hotel jetty, she was conscious but in a critical condition. She had lost a lot of blood and both her hands had been cut off at the forearm.”

The woman was not identified by name.

She was airlifted to the nearby island of Tahiti after which her condition reportedly stabilized.

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Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau credited the oceanic whitetip as “the most dangerous of all sharks,” and noted its notorious propensity to target shipwreck survivors and pilots downed oversea.

While the oceanic whitetip shark prefers to hunt further out at sea, following pods of dolphins, it is reportedly rare to see an attack of this nature, so close to shore.

The French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion has seen a string of 31 attacks by oceanic whitetip sharks since 2019, with 11 fatalities, including two deaths in 2019. Earlier in October, a local fisherman reportedly caught a 13-foot Tiger shark near La Réunion, prompting authorities to limit bathing and boating outside the lagoon at the tourist resort of Boucan-Canot.

By contrast, shark attacks in French Polynesia have been considered rare.

Pierrick Seybald, president of the Ma’O Mana shark protection foundation and local whale-watching guide, said tourists can actually approach the sharks at sea by establishing eye-contact, maintaining a non-threatening body language and following the advice of guides who know how to direct the sharks away from those swimmers.

“On average there are only six fatalities that are attributable to unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, each year. By contrast about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by fisheries,” according to the International Shark Attack File, which maintains a database of shark attacks.

The shark watch organization warned that people could expect a rise in the number of shark attacks as a result of growing interest in aquatic recreation.

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Oceanic whitetip sharks themselves are a prized target of fishers as their fins are the name ingredient in shark-fin soup.