Zarutskie, who is studying international business and nursing at the University of Miami, told BuzzFeed News her Instagram account grew pretty organically.
“I love to travel and I’ve been blessed with many opportunities,” she said.
One day on the trip, Zarutskie was walking back from lunch when she happened upon a spot where nurse sharks were swimming.
She said she saw multiple people swimming around in the pool with the sharks and wanted to get a photo with them.
“Nurse sharks are calm creatures,” she said, adding she had seen Instagram photos of people swimming next to the animals “so many times before.”
Swimming with nurse sharks in the Bahamas is a common activity, and they usually are “harmless to humans,” according to Exuma Online. The tourist website promoting the Bahamas’ Exuma district touts the swim as a “once in a lifetime adventure!”
“Compass Cay, which is in the northern Euxma chain, is a popular destination for tour boat operators that allows guests to swim with and feed nurse sharks,” the official Bahamas tourism website said.
“I leaned back, and then that shark he came and he bit down on my arm and pulled me under,” she said.
She said she was scared but knew she couldn’t flail about if she wanted to make it out safely.
Zarutskie knows she is “very, very blessed and fortunate” the situation was not worse.
“It was a testament to how calm I stayed,” she said.
She said she knows the sharks did nothing wrong.
“They are wild animals and it’s an uncontrollable situation,” she said, adding that the experience has been a “big learning lesson.”
She cautioned anyone thinking about swimming with sharks to know the risks. “I would recommend people to do it but be smart about it,” she said. “You are in their home.”