Rare shark attack in New Zealand leaves victim’s wetsuit in tatters

New Zealand enjoys one of the lowest shark-attack rates for coastal countries in the world, so it was an "eye-opener" for locals in the Catlins area of the South Island on Thursday afternoon when a French woman became a victim of a shark attack.

The unidentified woman was bodyboarding with her boyfriend and two other friends in Porpoise Bay off the town of Curio Bay when a shark grabbed her by the legs.

Friends dragged her onto the beach where they and other beachgoers helped wrap her wounds with towels and apply pressure, according to Fairfax Media.

"She was very lucky no arteries were damaged," Casey Keen, a surfer, told Fairfax Media. "She was handling it really well. She had limited English, so I was mostly communicating through her friend."

It was unclear how she became freed from the shark's grip, but she emerged with her full-body wetsuit in tatters, two deep puncture wounds above her knees and several slashes on her body from three bites.

Surf instructor Nick Smart had just returned to his Catlins Surf shop after giving a lesson when he noticed "something wasn't right" on the beach, he told the Otago Daily Times. After driving down to the beach and learning of the shark attack, he called for emergency services.

"There was not a large amount of blood, but it's a pretty good gash and she'll certainly need some stitches," Smart told Fairfax Media. "It's pretty bad."

The woman was transported to Dunedin Hospital via helicopter.

Shark attacks are rare in New Zealand. A surfer was bitten three times from his thigh to his calf in 2014 in what Smart said at the time was the first shark attack in the Catlins area.

According to the Guardian, the last fatality from a shark attack in New Zealand was a 47-year-old man on a popular tourist beach west of Auckland in 2013. Before that, there hadn't been a shark-attack death since 1976.

RELATED: Fear of a great white shark attack grips New Zealand island; it's like 'Jaws'

Clinton Duffy, a shark expert and a Department of Conservation marine scientist, told Fairfax Media that a broadnose sevengill shark was likely responsible in this latest attack.

“They’re very common in shallow beaches and in surf zones in Southland and New Zealand’s southern zones at this time of year,” he said.

“They’re a much more sluggish species than others and can be deterred a lot more easily. If it was a [great] white shark that attacked, I’d expect it would be a whole lot worse.”

Keen said although the incident was an "eye-opener," surfers knew there could be danger when entering the ocean, but he said it wouldn't stop him from surfing.