The Crocodile Hunter is no more

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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.