Monday, September 04, 2006

Potential Darwin Award Winner

"Crocodile Hunter" Irwin dies

By Paul Tait

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Steve Irwin, the quirky Australian naturalist who won worldwide acclaim, was killed by a stingray barb through the chest on Monday while diving off Australia's northeast coast, emergency officials and witnesses said.

"Steve was hit by a stingray in the chest," said local diving operator Steve Edmondson, whose Poseidon boats were out on the Great Barrier Reef when the accident occurred.

"He probably died from a cardiac arrest from the injury," he said.
I have to admit that, while I admire his commitment to the natural world and the amount of attention he's drawn to endangered species like the crocodile, Irwin's antics have always made me a little ill.

And that's before he jeopardized his infant son! The way he would harass snakes and other reptiles in order to get them to take up defensive postures and attack stances were less fascinating and more nauseating.

Sting-ray tails, as you can see here, don't flex very much, so in point of fact, for someone to get stung generally you have to step on the tail, or in Irwin's case, impale yourself either while surprising the ray on entry (hey, it *could* happen) or harassing it by swimming right behind it, and it suddenly stops or you've been handling a ray, always a no-no. The fact that it was a chest injury means Irwin was upright when it happened, so it's unlikely he was swimming behind it. Iriwn has a history of harassing sea life. You can do the math here.

This photo, by the way, was taken off Grand Cayman at Sting Ray City, a place where tourists, both snorkelers and scuba divers, can hand feed the rays (and yes, that's my daughter under the ray, so as you can see, I trusted the ray more than I would have trusted Steve Irwin with her.) If you click on the photo, you'll see thebarb, standing pointing dorsally in the upper part of the picture. The rays at Sting ray City are very friendly and very used to humans. The only recent incident at this location, where sting rays congregate in the dozens, was a small boy who was bitten by a moray that got confused in murk kicked up by excited tourists. Sting rays can use their tails in self-defense, but it's hard for them to position themselves to whip it around, as their eyes nearly face forward like ours.