The Crocodile Hunter is no more


Holy crap.

I get up on this holiday morning, and what is the first thing that I see when I check out the ScienceBlogs most recent posts, but a bunch of posts on Pharyngula, Pure Pedantry, Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge, and Evolving Thoughts, The Scientific Indian, and Afarensis?

Steve Irwin (a.k.a. the Crocodile Hunter) is dead:

BRISBANE, Australia Sep 4, 2006 (AP)– Steve Irwin, the hugely popular Australian television personality and environmentalist known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” was killed Monday by a stingray during a diving expedition. He was 44.

Irwin was filming an underwater documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Queensland state when he was stung, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on its Web site.

He collapsed at Batt Reef, near Low Isle and the resort town of Port Douglas, Queensland state police said in a statement. Port Douglas is about 1,260 miles north of Brisbane, the state capital.

A rescue helicopter rushed to the scene but Irwin had died, the statement said.

Queensland ambulance service spokesman Bob Hamil confirmed that a diver had been killed by a stingray off Lowe Isles Reef and said cause of death appeared to be a “stingray strike to the chest.”

According to this report, the stingray wound penetrated his heart:

Irwin had been filming a new documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest with friend and manager John Stainton at Batt Reef, off Port Douglas about 11am.

“He came over the top of a stingray and the stingray’s barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart,” Mr Stainton said.

“It’s likely that he possibly died instantly when the barb hit him, and I don’t think that he … felt any pain.

“He died doing what he loved best.”

Irwin was pulled aboard his research vessel, Croc One, for a 30-minute dash to Low Isle, where a Queensland Rescue Helicopter had been summoned, his Australia Zoo said in a statement.

The crew of the Croc One performed constant CPR during the voyage to Low Isle, but medical staff pronounced him dead about noon.

“It became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries,” said Dr Ed O’Loughlin, who treated Irwin at the scene.

“He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest.

“He had lost his pulse and wasn’t breathing.”

Dr O’Loughlin said it appeared Mr Irwin had suffered a “form of cardiac arrest” but a post-mortem examination would be conducted in Cairns.

What a totally unexpected, random, and–dare I say it?–freakish way to die, a stingray barb somehow penetrating far enough to pierce his heart! Apparently, though, although it’s rare for them to cause death, stingray barbs are formidable weapons:

According to a 1995 publication, Dangerous Marine Creatures – Field Guide for Medical Treatment, stingrays are the largest of the venomous fish.

The tail of the stingray carries at least one barb or spine that may be up to 37 centimetres long.

“Penetration of a body cavity by a stingray barb may cause major morbidity and even death, particularly with cardiac injury, and requires early surgical referral and management,” it states.

Penetrating cardiac injuries have generally been fatal, the publication said.

My wife and I used to love to watch The Crocodile Hunter a few years back. We marveled at some of the clearly risky stunts that Irwin pulled off and got away with somehow and loved the total joy and enthusiasm with which Irwin approached his work. We also had a particular fondness for Steve and his wife Terri because Steve was born the same year that I was and married Terri the same month and year that my wife and I got married. Even so, we also sometimes doubted his sanity. One episode in particular stands in my memory, and that’s one where he kept approaching spitting cobras in Africa. These snakes spit highly toxic venom at the eyes to blind their victims. Irwin’s only protection? Sunglasses.

On the other hand, you would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic advocate for wildlife conservation anywhere. He will be missed. Few people so clearly love life and what they are doing with their lives as fully and completely as Steve Irwin did.


  1. #1 wolfwalker
    September 4, 2006

    On the other hand, you would be hard pressed to find a more enthusiastic advocate for wildlife conservation anywhere. He will be missed.

    Indeed he will. I never much liked his show, because his style reminded me of a carny sideshow barker. But no one could ever doubt his commitment to the animals. I’m sorry to hear he’s gone. If he had to go, I’m glad he went out on top, doing what he loved, and that it was (by all accounts) relatively quick and clean.

    I also admit to being very concerned about his daughter — one story says he was doing some filming for her show when he was stung. I hope she doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking it was somehow her fault.

  2. #2 Alison
    September 4, 2006

    Apparently, the weather wasn’t co-operating for the shoot he wanted to do for his own show, so he decided to see if he could film something for his daughter Bindi Sue’s animal show. The ray is not aggressive, and attacks only in self-defense, so some people who were there stated that in the shallow water, with Irwin’s cameraman in front and Irwin above, the ray got spooked. This particular ray had a 20-cm barb. The Irwins also have a 3 year old son, Bob, who was at the center of a controversy when Irwin held the baby at the same time as he was feeding a dead chicken to a crocodile. The man had no fear, had suffered plenty of injuries in the course of his work, but never gave it up. He may have been an easy target for comedians, but he taught a lot of people things about wildlife that they’d never know otherwise.

    Last I heard, Terri was out hiking in Tanzania and hadn’t been contacted about Steve’s death. I feel very sad for her and the kids.

  3. #3 wolfwalker
    September 4, 2006

    Twenty centimeters? Must have been a huge ray. The average adult stingray has a barb about half that length. That’d be like getting stabbed with a poniard.

    Last I heard, Terri was out hiking in Tanzania and hadn’t been contacted about Steve’s death. I feel very sad for her and the kids.

    The current AP article has a family friend saying she’s been notified.

  4. #4 Catherina
    September 4, 2006

    “The ray is not aggressive, and attacks only in self-defense, so some people who were there stated that in the shallow water, with Irwin’s cameraman in front and Irwin above, the ray got spooked.”

    Weren’t we just talking about animal welfare? Cuddling wild animals, or surrounding them with camera teams until they display unusual aggressive behaviour will lead to accidents. Yes, it is sad that a woman lost her husband and the children lost their father. It is sad when a human dies. But if ever there was a case for “told you”, this would be it…

  5. #5 Louise
    September 4, 2006

    The message Queenslanders and I will remember is that animals are friends. Just as we won’t let shuttle accidents stop the space program, others will be inspired by his work. Perhaps seeing his shows as a child inspired me to touch dragons.

  6. #6 Manny Hernandez
    September 4, 2006

    I was sad about the news. At the same time, the man led a good life and inspired many in the way. He is probably happy wherever he is now. R.I.P. Crocodile Hunter.

  7. #7 Sid Schwab
    September 4, 2006

    What’s amazing is that this evidently isn’t the first case of heart penetration by a stingray barb.

  8. #8 Dave Godfrey
    September 4, 2006

    Stingray barbs have been implicated in the death of dolphins, as well as humans. The second source indicates several deaths due to stingray wounds, mostly due to wounds to the heart or abdomen, loss of blood and tetanus infection are also a problem.

  9. #9 Nat
    September 4, 2006

    Tanzania is a country in Africa. Tasmania is a state in Australia.

    And sting rays can be enormous in Australia. They are not the same species found in the US. The sting looks like a steak knife on some of these things

    “The giant Australian stingray can reach 6 to 7 feet across the wings and weigh 750 pounds.”

  10. #10 jayzid
    September 4, 2006

    Steve Irwins life and carrier was meteoric. He lived for his passion and died doing it. His last moment was destined because he had swam the oceans and seas only be drowned in the brook. May his wonderful soul rest in peace.
    My sympathy to his family and all his fans.

  11. #11 Louise
    September 5, 2006

    P.S. I photographed a 2-meter stingray in Australia this year and it was quite impressive.

  12. #12 HCN
    September 5, 2006

    When I was an Explorer Scout in the former Panama Canal Zone we camped in the Perlas Islands (site of some recent Survivor series).

    I remember one beach where stingrays were common, and how we were to walk in the shallows to avoid the barbs. I am a little freaked out by Steve Irwin’s death, because we were really just worried about barbs in our feet.

    There are those in our family who will miss his “Crikey!”.

    So sad.

  13. #13 Funny Little Troll
    September 5, 2006

    “Who knew that a man’s thumb would even fit in a stingray’s butthole?”


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