Marine Biologist Says Stingrays Not Aggressive, Will Attack When Provoked

DATE: Sept. 5, 2006
CONTACT: John Davis,
(806) 742-2136

LUBBOCK – Despite the fact that “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin died this weekend from a blow to the heart from a stingray’s barb, Texas Tech University marine biologist Dr. Sandra Diamond said the attack was unusual for a generally non-belligerent animal.

“It’s a freak accident because the stingray’s stinger pierced his heart, according to the reports,” Diamond said. “The chances of getting a stinger perfectly placed to pierce the heart are very slim, but most sea animals will attack if they feel threatened. But, it didn’t sound as if Irwin was trying to capture the ray. He was just swimming with it.”

Stingrays occur in the Americas from New Jersey to Brazil and along the West Coast, Diamond said. They mostly lie in the sand or mud along shorelines, bays and estuaries looking to ambush their prey. The stingray can get up to 5 feet in diameter and will leave people alone, unless a person steps on them.

The sting of a stingray contains venom, she said. Most stingray attacks on people cause pain and swelling, and can get infected, but are not fatal. There are about 2,000 reported stings in the U.S. each year.

“Stingrays are not aggressive to humans,” she said. “If you leave them alone, you’re not going to get stung. You have to go out of your way to get stung. But, like most sea animals, they have protective mechanisms. They do have eyes on top of their head, and if they saw a shadow swimming over them, they might think that was a predator.”


CONTACT: Sandra Diamond, associate professor of biology and marine biology, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-1999,