Steve Irwin, better known from the TV program Crocodile Hunter, is dead.
I personally did not like the fact that his TV programs focused mainly on sensationalist handling of dangerous animals in various stunts.
However, there is another side of Irwin that is mainly conservation and environmentalism. He quietly lobbied the government and prevented the establishment of a game hunting tourism industry for salt water crocodiles in the North West of Australia, and bought vast tracts of land for conservation.
Stingrays and food
Irwin's death was not brought on by a crocodile, but rather a stingray, while diving in Australia's barrier reef.
Growing up on the shores of the Mediterranean, we often saw the brown stingray known as baqara (بقرة meaning "cow"). It was known to cause very painful stings, but only when it was netted by fisherman from commercial boats.
The meat from stingray is not popular due to it having a distinctive taste. It is said that this is due to it having ammonia to cope with the pressure on the sea bed (not sure if this is scientific or not). What I know is that I ate them in Marsa Matrouh, after being soaked in vinegar for some time, and they did taste good after that.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, I ate something called "devil fish" and as per my Danish host, it was a stingray. It was cooked to be crisp, and had a very good taste.
In Jeddah's Red Sea, I saw at least three type of stingrays: the blue spotted stingray (Taeniura lymma), the much larger honeycomb stingray (Himantura uarnak), and the pelagic spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari).
All three of the above species are venomous, yet none of them are aggressive. They would normally be spooked by us approaching and would leave the area and bury themselves some distance away in the sand.
The exception is the spotted eagle stingray, which is curious and would circle around us to have a closer look.
However, the honeycomb stingray can cause severe damage. When someone steps on it by mistake, it raises its tail and "strikes" with its spine. The area where the strike occurs is often the leg, and specially the calf muscle.
A surgeon friend of mine told me of a person who was fishing off the reef north of Jeddah (Yanbu or thereabouts) using a rod and reel. He was of course wearing reef shoes. After a fish took the bait, he took a step backwards, and stepped on a stingray. The aftermath of the sting was so bad that he had to be flown to Jeddah for treatment. There was an area of necrosis around the wound, and a lot of tissue has to be removed surgically. This left the leg with a lot of muscle missing, not to mention disfigured.
Steve Irwin seems to have a knack for "horsing around" with wild animals. One would not be too far off if he imagines Steve doing this with a stingray, only to have the large sting pierce his heart and causing his untimely death. However, his death was captured on film, and those who saw it say that he was swimming, and the ray "stopped and turned and that was it". There was no blood in the water. The ray is said to be a bull ray, 2.5 meters in one account, and 1 meter and 100 kg in another. Some news reports also say that the tape shows him pulling the barb from his own chest after being hit.
- BBC: 'Crocodile Hunter' Irwin killed.
- BBC: Australia mourns colourful son.
- BBC: Obituary: Steve Irwin.
- CBC: Australia's 'Crocodile Hunter' dies in stingray attack.
- Wikipedia: Steve Irwin.
- BBC: Tape 'shows Irwin last moments'.
- Slashdot discussion on Steve Irwin's death.
- Steve Grenard: Stingray injuries, envenomation, and medical management.
- Mote: About Stingrays.
- NIH: a case of stingray injury to the heart, the victim survived.