A 55 year old Michigan woman, Judy Kay Zagorski, died of “blunt force craniocerebral trauma” when a Spotted Eagle Ray swooped out of the water and hit her in the head. Not difficult to imagine, when you realize that this animal was a 75-80 pound missile, with a 6 foot wingspan.
Until this story, I had not even heard of a Spotted Eagle StingRay. But as freak accidents go, this was one of the most freaky. It’s not the first time, either.
Eighty-one year old James Bertakis survived an almost identical confrontation in October of 2006, when a Spotted Eagle Ray jumped into his boat. In an effort to put it back in the water, he was stung in the chest, but left the barb in as companions rushed him to the hospital.
As most people in America recall, Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin died from the sting of a Bull Ray while filming an episode of his show. It’s not clear whether he really did pull the stinger out, as some contend, and that this was his fatal mistake. Leaving the stinger in or out could make no difference as the damage of a 10 inch barbed spike in the human heart is formidable, in and of itself. In the case of James Bertakis, surgeons performed two operations to remove the stinger from his heart, and his recovery was slow and still not complete.
Aside from a few news outlets, who called the Zagorski incident an “attack”, most have dubbed it an accident. The only one that could be considered an attack was Irwin’s case. He boxed the ray in between himself and the cameraman, and the instinctive response was to thrash its barbed tail. Most scuba divers and marine biologists understand that Spotted Eagle rays are usually harmless and rarely have direct contact, aggressive or otherwise, with humans.
In a story published by National Geographic, * University of Miami marine biology professor, Bob Cowen, said of Bertakis incident:
As for the likeness that yesterday’s event bears to the encounter that felled Irwin, there’s nothing to it beyond mere, if somewhat uncanny, happenstance, Cowen said. “…I really think it’s a fluke…We’re not going to see eagle rays jumping out of the water attacking boaters,” he said.
“If it happens a third time then we have to start worrying about it,” he added with a laugh.
Third time. Who’s laughing now?
Karma often seems void of discernment. Humans are a collective and we suffer as a species, sometimes, regardless of individual acts. But it’s important to realize that we continue to ignore the great potential of our oceans, while abusing the life in it.
Another Spotted Eagle Ray in Florida was tortured by several men on Peanut Island last June. The video of this was removed from YouTube and the Fish and Wildlife service is now doing a criminal investigation of the event.
I hope the abusers get tossed into a giant tank filled with Spotted Eagle Rays.