The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptArchives Issue 17
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The jpt Naturalist - issue 17

Stingrays Stinging and Bashing Their Way onto Terror List

by Hector Bustamante

He was Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter, and in 2006 his famous “Crike-ee!” was hushed forever off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef by a stingray barb through the heart. 

           He is Jim Bertakis, a South Floridian who at 82 (in 2006) survived a ray’s sting and surgical removal of the foot-long barb from his heart.

           She was Judy Zagorski, 57-year-old “community leader around her hometown of Pigeon, Mich.,” and as she cruised up front on her father’s boat, off Marathon in the Florida Keys, she was walloped in the face by an airborne 75-lb. spotted eagle ray.  The strike put her on the floor with “‘direct brain injury resulting in sudden death,’’’ according to decorated überjournalyst Armand Favigno’s quotation of AP writer Brian Skoloff’s March 21, 2010 report quoting Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

           While spotted eagle rays and their kin pose danger, they rarely tangle with humanlot, are said to sting only in defense, and in fact “are protected in Florida waters.”  They usually keep to their aquatic domain, taking to the air “to escape predators, remove parasites, or give birth,” Favigno quotes Skoloff.  Small consolation, that, to the Crocodile Hunters, the Jim Bertakises, and the Judy Zagorskis of the seagoing world, and to their families, fans, and loving communities.                    

           Provocation may factor into the stingings.  Croc Hunter Irwin paid the rent by rousting out formidable beasts in the wild, seizing them bare-handed and monkeying with them a bit for the cameras—though assertedly in a manner respectful to the animals and to nature—before letting go.  The ray that chanced into the Bertakis boat would have been flopping around in a panic likely magnified by frantic swats from the occupant, the two raising such hubbub as to transfix onlookers in other watercraft until the climactic cry.  But Judy Zagorski was not stung; like her, the ray had no inkling of their fated split-second meeting.  Through no culpable design of its own, it simply found itself author of another way to kill.

           And that capacity for random, inadvertent, lethal authorship might just be the most terrifying aspect of the stingray threat.

H. Bustamante

jptARCHIVE Issue 17
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