How Did Steve Irwin Die?
On September 4, 2006, international news declared the death of Steve Irwin from a stingray attack. He was filming in shallow waters in the Great Barrier Reef when a short-tail stingray stabbed him in the chest with its barb.
Before we dive into the detailed facts that cameraman and close friend to Steve Justin Lyons shared in 2014, let’s first take a look at the amazing work Steve did throughout his life. This will give us a better understanding of how Steve ended up face-to-face with a stingray in the final moments of his life.
Remembering The Life Of Steve Irwin
When he died, Steve Irwin was already an international pop culture icon for being the Australian wildlife man. It was his larger than life personality, his unforgettable catchphrases, and his boundless enthusiasm for animals that brought him global fame and success.
Growing Up With Crocs
Steve was born to Robert and Lyn Irwin on February 22, 1967. His father Robert, or Bob, was a wildlife expert with a keen interest in reptiles and amphibians and would pass on his knowledge and expertise to Steve. According to the Australia Zoo, his mother was a wildlife rehabilitator who was “skilled in nursing injured and animals” which she would eventually release back into the wild. The couple opened the Beerwah Reptile Park in 1970, where Steve grew up learning to care for and rescue animals.
Steve was catching small crocodiles by the age of nine, and by the age of 13, he was volunteering for Queensland’s East-Coast Crocodile Management Program, where he caught and re-homed over 100 problem crocodiles.
Steve eventually took over his parents’ park, which was renamed the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. It was here where he met the love of his life, Terri Reines. She was an American tourist who was also keenly interested in wildlife rehabilitation – she ran her own rehabilitation centre of injured cougars in Oregon. Recalling what made her fall in love with Steve, she said: “He sounded like an environmental Tarzan, a larger-than-life superhero guy”.
But meeting Terri didn’t just change Steve’s personal life, it also changed the course of his career.
Becoming The ‘Crocodile Hunter’
Rather than doing something traditionally romantic like a honeymoon in Italy or Tahiti, Steve and Terri chose to spend their first months as a married couple capturing crocodiles and filming their adventures. The footage from their trip was developed into episode one of The Crocodile Hunter. Soon after the show premiered, it became a national and international hit, and sprouted other shows by the couple, such as Croc Diaries, Croc Files, and New Breed Vets. They gained over 500 million viewers globally.
What did audiences love so much about Steve? His infectious exuberance for catching crocs and discovering animals was one thing. Another was his unique catchphrase “crickey!” which he would exclaim after coming upon a massive croc or some other beautiful creature.
Steve was dedicated to saving animals, and this love was palpable even from the small screen. Many people grew up learning about wildlife from Steve, and so his death felt like the loss of a beloved teacher and friend. When Steve passed, even renowned documentarist Sir David Attenborough had kind words to say about him after his death.
The Death Of Steve Irwin – How Did He Die Exactly?
According to cameraman and close friend to Steve, Justin Lyons, they were in the Great Barrier Reef filming for a documentary series called Ocean’s Deadliest when the freak accident happened. The pair went off on an inflatable boat to find tiger sharks but instead came upon a 2.4 metre-wide sting ray in chest-deep waters. It is believed that Steve wanted to capture the magnificent creature on film for his daughter’s show, Bindi: The Jungle Girl.
Stingrays are believed to be docile creatures that flee rather than attack when they sense predators, so it came as a shock to both Steve and Justin when the animal, according to the latter, “propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail, hundreds of strikes in a few seconds”. Lyons surmounts that the stingray must have thought that Steve was a tiger shark and was merely trying to defend itself.
Steve was stabbed in the heart by the stingray’s sharp barb, which caused him to bleed to death. Justin said the damage to Steve’s heart was “massive”, and even Steve realised that his time had come. As Justin and the other crew were trying to talk him through the ordeal, telling him to think of his kids and to hang on until more help would come, Steve looked up calmly and told Justin, “I’m dying”. Justin believes those were Steve’s last words.
Justin shared that he was still filming up until Steve passed, but vowed never to release the footage out of respect for his friend.
Steve Irwin’s Legacy
Before Steve passed away, he and Terri had two children. Bindi Sue Irwin was born in 1998 and was named after Steve’s favourite croc named Bindi, and his childhood pet named Sui. In 2003, the family welcomed a baby boy, whom they named Robert after Steve’s father.
Though Steve passed away when his kids were only eight and three years old, they have grown to become just like their father. Bindi actually had the opportunity to appear on television alongside her father in The Crocodile Hunter, as well as her own nature show, Bindi: The Jungle Girl. She even continued hosting her show after her father passed. Bindi travels the world to continue her father’s legacy as a wildlife educator.
Robert, who looks almost exactly like his father, shares his wide-eyed enthusiasm when talking about his favourite animals, and is a skilled nature photographer. He even makes frequent appearances on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where he introduces wild animals to Jimmy, his guests, and his audiences.
Though more than a decade has already passed since Steve Irwin died, his death still feels like a terrible loss. The man was a legend, perhaps even considered by some as Australia’s national treasure.