When Do Stingrays Strike?

World-famous "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, known for seeking out and handling some of the most dangerous animals in existence, died on Sept. 5, 2006, in a shocking accident with a stingray. Six weeks later, a stingray jumped into a fishing boat in Florida and stabbed 81-year-old James Bertakis in the chest. Stingrays are considered by most experts to be docile creatures, only attacking in self-defense. Most stingray-related injuries to humans occur to the ankles and lower legs, when someone accidentally steps on a ray buried in the sand and the frightened fish flips up its dangerous tail. Officials called the Florida incident a totally freak occurrence. In the early stages of examining the Steve Irwin accident, some experts hypothesized that the combined positions of Irwin (above the fish) and his cameraman (in front of the fish) could have made the stingray feel trapped and triggered a defensive attack; others point out that completely unprovoked stingray attacks are not unheard of. The good news is that stingray-related fatalities in humans are extremely rare, partly because of a stingray’s venom. While extraordinarily painful, it’s not usually deadly, unless the initial strike is to the chest or abdominal area. In Irwin’s case, the barb actually pierced his heart.  James Bertakis, who was also stabbed in the chest, didn’t attempt to remove the barb, which is likely why he survived the attack. When a stingray attacks, it needs to be facing its victim, because all it does is flip its long tail upward over its body so it strikes whatever is in front of it.