Steve Irwin died today in Australia, the apparent victim of a stingray stab to the heart. He was filming another “Crocodile Hunter” documentary, ironically titled, Ocean’s Deadliest, when a stingray he was swimming over attacked. Some reports say that he died instantly, others say that he may have still been alive when his crew got him to their boat. Despite rescuscitation efforts, Irwin was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital where he had been flown by helicopter. He is survived by his wife, Terri, and two children, 8 and 2 years of age. Irwin was 44 years old.
I have to admit that I don’t think that I’ve watched an entire ‘Crocodile Hunter’ episode. Irwin certainly has urged wildlife conservation, but I’m not terrifically interested in the sort of breathless exploitation of the human response to wildlife that TV producers seem to find uniquely attractive and worthy of development money. Was irwin a big step forward over Marlon Perkins? Probably so. But let’s not lose perspective here: the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ was entertainment, and Irwin was an entertainer. He was very successful at entertaining. Various accounts also note his efforts on behalf of Australian tourism and promotion of the Australia Zoo.
Six years ago, two marine mammal researchers conducting field research in the Arctic, Stuart Innes and Malcolm Ramsey, died when their helicopter crashed. Outside of the marine mammal research community, relatively few people took note of the loss. It seems to me that we should pay a bit less attention to notoriety and a bit more to the pervasive daily tragedies around us. Our sympathy should extend not just to Terri Irwin now, but we should pay especial attention to those suffering around us who don’t have the safety net of fan clubs and solicitous production companies. Those are the people to whom each of us can make the biggest difference.