Australia’s famous crocodile hunter dies of stingray
Monday, September 04 2006 @ 05:16 PM MSD
| Steve Irwin, of Advertisement Wildlife died of stingray on Monday. He was plunged by a barb as he snorkeled in shallow water on the Great Barrier Reef. The 44-year-old TV personality may have died instantly when struck by the stingray while filming a sequence for his eight-year-old daughter Bindi's new TV series, friends believe.|
"You think about all the documentaries we've made and all the dangerous situations that we have been in, you always think `is this it, is this a day that maybe his demise?'," said his friend and manager John Stainton. But the flamboyant naturalist's final confrontation with a wild animal occurred at Batt Reef off Port Douglas on Monday morning, where he had been filming a new documentary, "Ocean's Deadliest".
Wildlife experts said the normally passive creatures only sting in defence, striking with a bayonet-like barb when they feel threatened
Taking time off from the main project, Mr Irwin was swimming in shallow water, snorkelling as his cameraman filmed large bull rays.
Mr Irwin's death was only the third known stingray death in Australian waters, said shark and stingray expert Victoria Brims.
Marine documentary maker Ben Cropp, who spoke to one of Mr Irwin's crew, said: "Steve got probably maybe a bit too close to the ray, and with the cameraman in front, the ray must have felt sort of cornered.
"It went into a defensive mode, stopped, turned around and lashed out with its tail, which has a considerable spike on it.
"Unfortunately Steve was directly in its path and he took a fatal wound."
Unconscious, Mr Irwin was pulled aboard his research vessel, Croc One, for a 30-minute dash to Low Isle, where an emergency helicopter had been summoned at about 11am, 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 Mr Irwin dead about noon.
Mr Irwin's body was flown to a morgue in Cairns, where stunned family and friends were gathering on Monday night.
His American-born wife Terri was told of her husband's death while on a walking tour in Tasmania, and returned to the Sunshine Coast with her two children, Bindi and three-year-old son Bob.
He was one of Australia's best known personalities internationally and an ambassador for the nation and its wildlife.
Mr Irwin was also a global phenomenon, making almost 50 documentaries which appeared on the cable TV channel Animal Planet, and which generated books, interactive games and even toy action figures.
Prime Minister John Howard said: "I am quite shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death. It's a huge loss to Australia.
"He was a wonderful character. He was a passionate environmentalist. He brought joy and entertainment and excitement to millions of people."
Mourners laid flowers at the entrance of Mr Irwin's Australia Zoo, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Mr Stainton said bad weather had stopped the filming for their documentary about some of the world's deadliest sea creatures.
Mr Irwin instead decided on a whim to shoot footage for his daughter Bindi's upcoming series.
"He said 'I might just go off and shoot some segments for Bindi's show, just stuff on the reef and little animals," Mr Stainton said.
"I just said fine, anything that would keep him moving and keep his adrenalin going.
"The next thing I heard on the radio was there was a medical emergency, the little dinghy he was in was bringing him back with the crew.
"Everyone tried absolutely tirelessly to revive him to keep him alive, we cut dinghies loose and made it post haste to Low Isle where we knew the chopper would be able to get in, but I think it's possible he probably died at 11am."
Diver Pete West was on a nearby boat and believed Mr Irwin may have been alive when pulled from the water.
"He was doing what he did best and unfortunately today he wasn't quick enough," he told the Seven Network.
University of Melbourne expert Bryan Fry said stingrays only sting in defence.
"They're not aggressive animals so the animal must have felt threatened. It didn't sting out of aggression, it stung out of fear," said Dr Fry, deputy director of the Australian Venom Research.
He said the stingray would have been up to 2.5 metres across, with a "formidable" jagged barb up to 20cm long, capable of tearing flesh.
"It's not the going in, it's the coming out," Dr Fry said of the serrated barb.
But the stingray's venom would not have been a factor.
Mr Irwin was comfortable around animals, no matter how dangerous, and some wildlife experts warned he took too many risks.
His enthusiasm and daring made him famous.
The Melbourne-born father of two's Crocodile Hunter program was first broadcast in 1992 and has been shown around the world on cable network Discovery.
He also starred in movies and helped develop the Australia Zoo wildlife park, north of Brisbane, which was started by his parents Bob and Lyn Irwin.
He grew up near crocodiles, trapping and removing them from populated areas and releasing them in his parents' park, which he took over in 1991.
Bob was involved in a controversial incident in January 2004, when his father held his infant son in one arm as he fed a dead chicken to a crocodile at Australia Zoo.
Child welfare and animal rights groups criticised his actions as irresponsible and tantamount to child abuse.
Mr Irwin said any danger to his son was only a perceived danger and that he was in complete control of the situation.
In June 2004, Mr Irwin came under fire again when it was alleged he came too close to and disturbed some whales, seals and penguins while filming a documentary in Antarctica.
Mr Irwin was also a tourism ambassador and was heavily involved in last year's "G'Day LA" tourism campaign.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said Mr Irwin was an "extraordinary man".
"He has made an enormous difference to his state and his country," he said.