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Reef Report for Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Steve Irwin Killed by Sting Ray on Great Barrier Reef

Steve Irwin, known worldwide as the Crocodile Hunter, was killed in what can best be described as a rare and freakish incident with a sting ray on the Great Barrier Reef.

The accident occurred while he was filming a segment for a television program on dangerous reef creatures. © Wildlife Warriors Steve was snorkeling in the shallows off of Batt Reef, near Port Douglas with a bull ray, when it reacted defensively and struck him in the chest with its spike. Mr. Irwin was pronounced dead on the scene about an hour after the incident.

While the true cause of death has not been determined, it's known that Bull Rays the size of the one involved in this incident, (around a metre across) have a sharp bony spike that can be up to 20cm long. This spike is used purely for defensive purposes. Itís thought that the when the ray spike Mr. Irwin it damaged his heart, causing a very quick death.

Deaths caused by rays are very rare. They are not aggressive animals.Thereís only one other recorded death in Australia, an equally odd accident where a ray happened to jump out of the water just as a boat was cruising past and struck a boy in the chest, who died five days later of complications from the injury. Still, itís a solemn reminder of the defensive armor of rays, and that close approaches to them can cause injuries.

I received the news of Steve Irwinís death from a friend who had email us one of the first news reports of the accident. My first reaction was that it was a hoax, that Steve Irwin was the indestructible man I saw on television, diving on top of crocodiles, grabbing onto venomous snakes, and repairing any small damage caused by his antics with a length of duct tape before plunging back into it headfirst. As further news came we were shocked and saddened by his death.

Steve Irwin was a great spokesman for Australia, for the unique wildlife of the Australian tropics and a strong advocate for the protection of wildlife and vital wildlife habitat. While not a trained scientist he know his stuff, and his friendly and quirky demeanor touched kids and adults in a way no scientist can; people cared about wildlife because Steve Irwin so obviously cared about animals.

As his show grew more popular we were impressed by the quiet way that Mr. Irwin invested back in the wildlife he loved. The Australian Zoo, which was started as a reptile park by his parents, now undertakes a number of wildlife conservation projects. The staff of the Australia Zoo provide expertise and muscle power working with scientists on crocodile research. Steve also purchased vital habitat for a number of rare species of animals.

We will dearly miss Steve Irwin, and extend our condolences to his family. Itís up to all of us to step up a bit and be more vocal advocates for wildlife, wild land and ocean protection in his absence. Itís doubtful that any of us can be as bright and fresh as Steve Irwin was, but we can all make a difference that in some small way resembles and honors those made by the Crocodile Hunter during his life.

More details:

Steve Irwin's Wildlife Conservation Charity, Wildlife Warriors

Sydney Morning Herald story

News.com.au story

New York Times obituary

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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