Joined: May 2006
I recall seeing an interview with an ichthyologist who specializes in rays saying that there was only one other case on record where someone had been stung directly in the heart by a stingray, and that person survived.
all other deaths I can recall were related to severe allergic reactions to the venom, or from complications resulting from infections of the wound site.
so that makes Irwin the only person in recorded history to have been killed in such fashion, AFAICT.
Moreover, stingrays are not usually aggressive in any way. Even the person who was working with Irwin on this project, and had spent a lot of time diving with this particular species mentioned he had only once seen an aggresive response from this species.
as to how one could even get a sting to the heart to begin with, the stingers on some rays are quite large (up to 10 inches), and the rays are able to flex their tails a fair bit, so I can imagine a stike upwards of the tail hitting the chest and driving the stinger in quite a ways. Steve was snorkeling at the time, so it probably was pretty shallow water, and if Steve was directly over the ray and it felt threatened...
still, it truly is the definition of "freak accident".
I think there is legitimate debate about the interest generated by his "hands on" cowboy-style stage personality he exhibited in his many TV shows (a bit too much "Marlin Perkins", at the expense of talking about the actual science involved), but nobody I can find anywhere ever challenged his dedication to increasing awareness of the conservation needs of many "uncuddly" critters.
"And the sea will grant each man new hope..."