National Geographic News Staff Writer
In a freak event eerily reminiscent of the death of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin, a Florida man was stung in the heart yesterday by a stingray that leapt into his boat.
James Bertakis, 81, was boating with his granddaughters near the town of Lighthouse Point, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Fort Lauderdale, when a three-foot-wide (one-meter-wide) spotted eagle ray bounded out of the water and fell into the boat.
(See Florida map.)
As Bertakis struggled to get the ray out of the vessel, the animal lashed its ten-foot (three-meter) tail, piercing the man's heart with its venomous barb.
The barb remained lodged in the man's chest, while the women brought the boat ashore and called for help.
Surgeons performed two operations on Bertakis yesterday and today, ultimately removing the 1-foot (0.3-meter) barb by pulling it through his heart. Bertakis was listed in critical condition late Thursday.
Comparisons to the recent death of Steve Irwin are difficult to avoid; Irwin died while filming a television special off Australia's Great Barrier Reef on September 4, when he was stung in the heart by a bull ray.
Irwin removed the barb from his chest before losing consciousness and dying at the scene.
Similarities between the two events may spark fear in beach-goers, fishers, and others who spend time in coastal waters, but they amount to little more than a bizarre coincidence, says Bob Cowen, a professor of marine biology at the University of Miami.
"I just cannot imagine any connection," he said. "I just think they're just two really unusual situations."
Spotted Eagle Ray
While he has never heard of a fatal attack by a spotted eagle ray, Cowen says it is quite common for the animals to leap out of the water.
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