Steve Irwin, a zoologist, conservationist, environmentalist, and television personality from Australia, died on September 4, 2006, after being punctured in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in the Great Barrier Reef. The stinger pierced his thoracic wall, injuring him severely.
He was on location at Batt Reef, near Port Douglas, Queensland, for the making of the documentary Ocean’s Deadliest. Irwin opted to snorkel in shallow waters while being videotaped during a gap in production due to bad weather in order to provide footage for his daughter Bindi’s television show.
Irwin’s death is one of the few human deaths from stingrays, and it was the only fatality from a stingray documented on camera, however it has not been disseminated to the public.
Ocean’s Deadliest was completed four months after Irwin’s death and broadcast on the Discovery Channel in the United States. With the exception of a memorial to Irwin at the conclusion, the documentary was completed with material filmed in the weeks following the accident, but without any mention of Irwin’s death.
Irwin approached a short-tail stingray with a spread of around two metres (6.5 ft) from behind while swimming in chest-deep water to video it swimming away. The stingray abruptly shifted its weight to its front and began frantically stabbing Irwin with its tail. He thought he simply had a punctured lung at first, but the stingray’s barb penetrated his heart, causing him to bleed to death.
Irwin’s boat crew gave him CPR and carried him to the neighboring Low Isles, where medical personnel pronounced him dead.
Terri Irwin, Irwin’s widow, said in an interview with Access Hollywood on January 11, 2014, that the documentary does not feature any footage shot on the day he died, and that the footage of his injury and death had been erased.
Although footage of the incident exists, Justin Lyons, a cameraman for the documentary, has stated that he is opposed to its distribution. Weeks after Irwin’s death, Philippe Cousteau Jr. completed the documentary.
The news of Irwin’s death sparked outrage around the world. “Australia has lost a brilliant and colorful son,” then–Australian Prime Minister John Howard said of Irwin’s death, expressing “shock and grief.”
Premier Peter Beattie of Queensland said at the time that Irwin will “be regarded as not only a great Queenslander, but a great Australian.”
Both Howard and the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, delivered condolence statements when the Australian federal parliament convened on September 5, 2006. In honor of Irwin, the Sydney Harbour Bridge flags were lowered at half-mast.
Reactions dominated Australian internet news sources, talk-back radio programs, and television networks in the days following Irwin’s death.
Special tributes aired on the Animal Planet channel, CNN, and prominent TV discussion shows in the United States, where Irwin had appeared in over 200 Discovery Network television programs.
Thousands of fans paid their condolences and brought flowers, candles, plush animals, and notes of sympathy to Australia Zoo after his death.
On September 9, 2006, Irwin’s family and friends had a private burial service in Caloundra.
 Later that day, Irwin was buried in a private ceremony at Australia Zoo; the cemetery site is inaccessible to zoo visitors.
Prime Minister Howard and Queensland Premier Beattie offered to organize a state burial for Irwin, but his family declined, saying that he would rather be remembered as a “ordinary person.”
On September 20, a public memorial service was performed in Australia Zoo’s 5,500-seat Crocoseum, which was aired live throughout Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Asia, and it is estimated that over 300 million people around the world saw it.
Prime Minister John Howard, Irwin’s father Bob and daughter Bindi, associates Wes Mannion and John Stainton, and celebrities from Australia and around the world (including Hugh Jackman, Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, David Wenham, Kelly Ripa, and Larry King) all spoke at the memorial.
Irwin’s favorite song was “True Blue,” which was performed by Australian musician John Williamson. As Williamson performed, Irwin’s truck was filled with gear and drove out of the arena for the last time, symbolizing the end of the service. As Irwin’s truck was driven out from the Crocoseum for the final time to complete the service, Australia Zoo personnel wrote out “Crikey” in yellow flowers as a farewell tribute.
At least ten stingrays were discovered dead and mutilated on Queensland beaches in the weeks after Irwin’s death, with their tails cut off, prompting speculation that they were killed by Irwin fans as a form of vengeance, though anglers regularly cut the tails off accidentally caught stingrays to avoid being stung, according to the chairman of the Queensland fishing information service.
Michael Hornby, a friend of Irwin’s and the executive director of his Wildlife Warrior Fund, condemned any retaliatory killings, saying that they were “unacceptably cruel.” “We simply want to state unequivocally that we will not accept or stand by anyone who seeks retaliation in any way. That’s the absolute last thing Steve wants.”
Bindi remarked in an interview with Larry King that she adores stingrays and has no animosity toward them.