Irwin was swimming over the stingray during filming for a documentary when he was struck in the chest, the barb most likely piercing his heart.He was making a documentary that was said to be intended to demystify the stingray, and it seems the stingray had some mysteries that it chose to reveal in its own way.
Dr Bryan Fry, deputy director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, said stingray venom was "extraordinarily painful".
"If he was conscious he would have been in agony," Fry told Reuters.
Fry said stingray venom was a defensive weapon similar to that in stonefish but was not lethal. Serrated barbs on the stingray's tail would have delivered the fatal injury, he said.
"It's not the going in, it's the coming out," Fry said.
"They have these deep serrations which tear and render [sic] the flesh as it comes out," he said.
ADDED: It occurs to me that Steve Irwin was the most enthusiastic person in the world, and that it's impossible to think of who would come in second. And then I realize that the reason I don't know who comes in second -- first, now -- is that people who have that level of enthusiasm are ordinarily tamped down by social pressure -- or, if they don't respond to social pressure, shunned or institutionalized. Or drugged. The extraordinary thing, then, is not that he was so over-the-top enthusiastic, but that he didn't annoy us into rejecting him. He actually made us happy. What a guy!
MORE: Lots of comments on Metafilter, including: "it's so weird that it only takes about five minutes after someone dies for their wikipedia page to go from 'is' to 'was'." Also, a link to a big article on Irwin in today's Sydney Morning Herald, published before the news of his death. Lots of good stuff, like:
With only his dog for company, he spent five years [in the mid-1980s] catching and relocating protected saltwater crocodiles that had become a threat to people in remote communities....It's interesting to read that, unlike Americans, Australians are put off by his expressive style, that they think the fun is in underplaying one's exploits. But I think Americans like underplaying too, when it's done well.
Irwin's feats of bushmanship and endurance during that time were astonishing. For months on end he lived like Tarzan, capturing enraged crocodiles with only net-traps and a small aluminium dinghy. "Mate," he whoops, "I was totally feral! I could run a wild pig down." The setting of each trap meant hauling a 120-kilo weight-bag high into the mangroves "while 5,000 green ants were biting on my eyeballs ... [later] I hadda get the croc into the boat, then from the boat to me truck, then into a crate. No-one could believe one person could do that, so Dad sent me up this video camera."
With the camera tied to a tree, or on the boat seat, Irwin recorded his horrifying ordeals. Every so often his grinning, mud-caked face would pop up before the lens. "Didja see that!" he'd holler, bug-eyed, before rushing off to deal with the next crisis.
IN THE COMMENTS: Someone (inevitably) says he died doing what he loved, and Ruth Anne reminds me of this old post of mine talking about how people always say that, along with (humorous!) speculation about me dying while blogging and people saying that.