By Stacey Leasca
October 22, 2019

A French tourist lost both her hands in a rare shark attack while swimming off the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia, according to local emergency services.

The Telegraph reported that the victim is a 35-year-old female French national who was taking part in a whale-watching expedition when the attack occurred. She was reportedly attacked by an oceanic whitetip shark, which bit into her arms and chest.

Local firefighter Jean-Jacques Riveta told French news outlet, AFP, that the victim was treated on the scene by two nurses who happened to be with her on the excursion.

“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," he said, adding that she also lost her left breast. 

The woman was airlifted to Tahiti and is reportedly in stable condition.

Robin Smith/Getty Images

Though this event is most certainly terrifying, it should be noted that shark attacks both in French Polynesia and around the world are exceedingly rare.

According to the International Shark Attack File of the Florida Museum of Natural History, there have been only six confirmed unprovoked shark attacks reported since 1580 in French Polynesia.

"Shark attacks are generally very rare in French Polynesia—which is somewhat surprising to me because there are quite a few tourist operations in Moorea that lure sharks and rays into shallow water with food so that tourists can interact and snorkel with the animals,” the program director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at museum, Gavin Naylor, told Newsweek after the attack.

"However, the majority of sharks involved with these operations are the black-tipped reef sharks," he added. "These animals rarely get much larger than 5 or 6 feet long and are rarely responsible for any serious bites on humans."

He further called the recent incident in Moorea a “freak accident.”

As for around the globe, the International Shark Attack File says, on average, there are also 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," the report said, noting that, "As the world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries."

To stay safe while swimming with sharks, make sure to only swim with certified guides, avoid operations that bait the animals to come close to you, and always respect their space. The ocean is their home after all, not yours.

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