The irony of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's death is that he was not killed by one of the deadly creatures he regularly handled, but by a relatively peaceful fish, scientists said on Monday.
SYDNEY: The irony of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's death is that he was not killed by one of the deadly creatures he regularly handled, but by a relatively peaceful fish, scientists said on Monday.
Irwin, renowned worldwide as a fearless environmentalist happy to handle crocodiles and snakes on his television show, was killed on Monday by a stingray -- a flattish, diamond-shaped fish which rarely attacks humans.
"They are normally not aggressive and use their long barbed tail to protect themselves from predators such as sharks and killer whales," said Sean Connell, a marine ecologist at the University of Adelaide.
"They feed on tiny animals on the sea floor. I have never heard of an unprovoked attack from a stingray."
Despite their name, it is not the venom from the sting that is most dangerous, scientists say.
Irwin was killed when a stingray barb punctured his chest as he was filming on the famed Great Barrier Reef.
"What happened to Steve Irwin is like being stabbed in the heart," said Geoff Isbister, a clinical toxicologist at the Mater Hospital in Newcastle on Australia's east coast.
"It has little to do with the venom and all to do with the trauma caused by the barb of the stingray."
One other person was known to have died in Australia from a similar injury to the chest, but most stingray injuries resulted from people stepping on them in shallow water and getting a barb in the ankle, he said.
"Stingrays only sting in defence; they're not aggressive animals so the animal must have felt threatened," said Bryan Fry, director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne.
"It would have to have been a large ray with a disc size of up to 2.5 metres.
"The stingray's venom would not have been a factor. While extremely painful, stingray venom is rarely lethal."