05 Sep2006

Blue-Spotted Sting Ray

by Marketman


Recent comments by readers “Gonzo” and “Apicio” regarding the freak accident that resulted in the death of conservationist Steve Irwin, otherwise known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” on Australia’s Barrier Reef, prompted me to dig up this file photo of a blue spotted stingray and write this post. My older brother is a certifiable fish who has optional gills and he has spent more time under the water than most amphibians but I was not as thrilled with the idea of exploring the coral reefs (moray eels, lion fish, poisonous coral) attached to an explosive canister of oxygen. I figured if I ain’t got gills, I wasn’t meant to go much further down than 10-12 feet underwater, the depth of the deepest swimming pool. But this recent sting ray “accident” occurred in very shallow water while Mr. Irwin was filming a segment for a children’s program and so my concept of the worst happening only in the dark unkown is now completely obliterated. Mr. Irwin was apparently snorkeling in the shallow waters off the Barrier reef and while over a sandy bottom, inadvertently “cornered” a stingray that was in the sand. The natural reaction of a stingray is to rapidly raise its tail which has some venomous spines or barbs (that look like a small sharp saw, locally referred to as binsol) that can, on a RARE occasion, result in death. These spines apparently punctured Mr. Irwin’s chest, which is the most vulnerable part of a human’s body. It resulted in his death. He will be missed by his many fans.

All rays in the ocean are characterized by a flat body that resembles a kite and they have five large gills on their underside. Manta Rays are the enormous, gorgeous, majestic rays that have flaps that extend out the front of its body. They are typically black I think. Stingrays (of which there are many more varieties, over a half dozen in the Philippines), can be much smaller though extend to huge sizes as well and are rather common across Philippine waters. I took the photo above of the blue spotted stingray at a market in Bohol last March. They are eaten in many coastal towns, in fact. A third type of ray is an eagle ray which has a head resembling an eagle, hence its unusual name. Rays tend to rest on sandy bottoms, sometimes in shallow waters so the risk of stepping on them is quite high, however, fatal injuries are quite unusual. For the benefit of readers, I quote here a warning about the venomous spines from a book by Gerry Allen called “Marine Fishes of Southeast Asia” on page 48:

“Many rays …. are characterized by one or more venomous spines on the tail. Stings inflicted by these spines are extremely painful and fatalities have occurred when either heart, abdomen, or lungs were badly perforated. … If a ray is stepped on it has the ability to thrust its tail upward and forward impaling the victim with incredible speed. Pain is immediate and intense…” Yipes. Be careful. As beautiful as they are left to their own devices, if I must interact with these in future, I’ll take my rays dried in the form of shagreen (ray leather) instead (like Apicio) or well-done in a dish with gata (coconut milk)!



  1. corrrine_p says:

    I never ceased to be amazed how God gave everybody and even the smallest creature on earth a capacity to defend one’s self. Yes, as beautiful as they are, I would rather admire their beauty in a huge aquarium! I won’t eat these beauties though…ooppsss!

    Sep 5, 2006 | 8:20 am


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  3. gonzo says:

    Yes the circumstances of the death was so bizarre and so tragic that i can scarcely believe it. In Australia, where the wide-eyed buffoonish and highly enthusiastic Irwin was ignored for many years (even as he reached TV superstar status in the US) news of his death has been an incredible shock. Some have even likened it to the death of Princess Di (see the Sydney Morning Herald website).

    Many Aussies at first were embarrassed of ‘Steve-O’ because his exagerrated aussie bushman accent and over the top bulging eyed enthusiasm gave a mistaken impression of what regular australians were really like, but in the end he was accepted as a true aussie icon, more famous around the world than any other australian, including the Aussie prime minister, whose name most non-aussies would not even know (ehem, that’s John Howard. Who?).

    Anyway, he turned a whole generation of kids into budding naturalists and conservationists, and made people see crocodiles, snakes and other ‘non-cute’ creatures as important and part and parcel of the balance of nature. He was a true defender of the Earth, and for that the people of the world, aussie citizen or not, should be thankful. He will be missed by millions.

    As for stingrays, i like mine the Singaporean way: barbecued with a special chilli paste on top.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 8:36 am

  4. RoseLyn says:

    Right on! It’s kinda weird for a crocodile hunter to die because of sting ray.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 8:37 am

  5. gonzo says:

    Oh and one more thing– Steve Irwin was a millionaire many times over (his show was syndicated in most countries round the world and he made tens of millions in the US alone. Lately, Las Vegas promoters had offered him a $50M deal to do his show long-term in Vegas– to fill the void that Siegried and Roy left when Roy was mauled by that tiger a few years back).

    Yes he was filthy rich but here’s the thing: no 21-room mansions for him, he lived with his family in the Australia Zoo, and used virtually all of his income to buy huge tracts of land, habitats around the world (in the Amazon and elsewhere) so that endangered species would have a chance of protection. Like i said, he was a simple guy and a true defender of the Earth.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 8:51 am

  6. Apicio says:

    Our nextdoor neighbor shared with us whatever special dish she was cooking which usually involved exotic fauna that cooks at home would not know how to prepare and that was how we got to taste shark, skate or stingray, turtle, eel, bayawak, horsemeat and frog legs. Mother served us the dish first and identified the hapless creature only after we’ve polished off our plates. The skate was cooked in onions and tomatoes with alagaw and instead of fish bones had soft gelatinous cartilage separating the thick flakes of tender flesh. Delish.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:03 am

  7. Marketman says:

    Hi Apicio, yes, I have always wondered about skate vs. stingray, but according to this link to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skate they come from different species. I always thought skate was cold water rays… I like skate with butter, lemon and capers, kinda like with sole. As for the horsemeat, I just saw some at the market last weekend and was a little surprised. I didn’t buy any though I am told it makes a good tapa. I can’t eat anything I have ridden before, despite it’s having thrown me off its back several times. I have never tried bayawak though I saw bayawak eggs for sale once, they looked bizarre, the shells were softish… Eel and frogs legs are good, in my book. Can’t remember if I have had turtle, which puts my daughter’s two pets at risk… heehee.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:31 am

  8. linda says:

    Steve Irwin was a “hero” to many Australians and people around the world and has been declared an Australian Icon and he will be sadly missed.

    Gonzo said it all – great Epitaph!

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:34 am

  9. manilastreetwalker says:


    Thanks for sharing that little tidbit. As crazy(he once held his baby while feeding a crocodile!) and bulge eyed as he may be, I actually liked watchig his animal-antics and Im sure the animal planet will never be the same with him again.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:36 am

  10. Jean says:

    on that note, may Steve Irwin rest in peace.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:43 am

  11. CecileJ says:

    How sad to learn about Steve Irwin’s passing. Gonzo, I agree 100% with all that you said about him turning lots of people into conservationists. He will be truly missed.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 10:34 am

  12. Doddie from Korea says:

    I used to dislike Steve Irwin intensely. Then I saw one of his shows where one of the first crocodiles he help save died and he sobbed like a baby. I grew to like him then. I also saw a commercial in Animal Planet where he talked about wanting to grow like his dad (who was a zookeeper). He talked that in the end, he eventually became like his dad.

    My heart mourns the passing of a great guy, a loving father, an entertaining tv host and an animal lover legend. RIP Steve, we’re gonna miss you a lot. (wipes a tear away)

    Sep 5, 2006 | 11:23 am

  13. awi says:

    hey gonzo, ako rin! inihaw na stingray with that chili paste on top is the absolute best, good god.

    i felt pretty freaky yesterday when i heard about steve’s demise, kasi just an hour before my friend and i were talking about singapore-style stingray inihaw..! sheesh.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 11:42 am

  14. anonymous paul says:

    first andre agassi retires now steve irwin dies! i cant seem to handle all the bad news! steve’s a solid man. true to himself. i wish more people in the world were like that.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 12:00 pm

  15. robksa says:

    “attached to an explosive canister of oxygen”, I hate to do this really but would like to point out that Scuba diving tanks contain just plain compressed air and not oxygen. So it’s not explosive but just heavy. Nice, timely article MM; and to think of it, I have an office mate named Steve Irwin too.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 12:14 pm

  16. lee says:

    He died in the line of duty. What a way to go for a man devoted to respect even the creatures we despise the most.

    Steve’s kryptonite, the “ikog pagi” is a powerful weapon in folklore where manananggals and aswangs cower in fear if you are armed with one. I have seen a few of these dried stingray tails before and have heard more stories that their whip marks don’t heal, etc.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 12:26 pm

  17. Marketman says:

    robksa, thanks for enlightening me, I feel much better now, really, I have learned something today… heehee. But remember when the shark in Jaws has a scuba tank in its mouth and it’s shot at and explodes…??? Yup, I do get some of my info from the movies…

    Sep 5, 2006 | 2:02 pm

  18. Ria says:

    I spotted a blue spotted ray off the coast of Mabini, Batangas in June. It was a baby at 4 feet. It was absolutely beautiful.

    I would like to share this article “Rays of Hope” about the return of the manta rays in Batangas for MM’s readers who are interested in conservation. It IS a ray of hope. A big one (about 8-10 feet) was spotted just last week in a dive site. http://www.wwf.org.ph/newsfacts.php?pg=det&id=27

    Sep 5, 2006 | 2:40 pm

  19. math says:

    I must admit that I’m not a big fan of Steve Irwin but he was certainly very passionate about his work & really loved what he was doing.

    I was so shocked when I heard the news about his death since it seems so ironic that a man who loved & understood all these dear animals would also die in their hands one day. He will indeed be a big loss to society!

    Sep 5, 2006 | 5:20 pm

  20. Apicio says:

    Yes Lee buntot pagi and the barbed long snout of saw fish (tagan) another trully menacing marine critter, are your tools of choice for repelling aswang. Botong Francisco had a series of dark drawings depicting this and the rest of Philippine underworld myths.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 7:31 pm

  21. Traci says:

    felt rather depressed when i heard the news on Sky yesterday afternoon. i remembered he had young kids..

    i’m just curious where this barb goes when they’re hooked? what do people do with them?

    i first tasted sting ray in singapore – didn’t become a big fan of it, but it’s meaty and i thought the flesh looked like fish. if my brother hadn’t told me it was ‘ray i wouldn’t have known any better!

    Sep 5, 2006 | 8:24 pm

  22. lexie says:

    The world has lost a great conservationist. For messages of support and sympathy to steves family go to http://www.qld.gov.au

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:03 pm

  23. Apicio says:

    Can’t remember? Thought you have turtle recall.

    In college I hang out with a friend whose family was well known in Malabon as what I would later discover a highly sought after specialty in France and Belgium that of boucher chevaline. You would think that our horses there would only be fit as fodder for glue factories but I think they got their stock from steeds raised for sport and so were well cared for and fed at a time before the advent of anabolic steroids.

    Sep 5, 2006 | 9:16 pm

  24. tulip says:

    As a biologist, it surprised me that Mr. Irwin died due to Stingray injury. It was quite quick. According to news’ reports, as the barb hit his chest he pulled it out and after a while he got unconscious and lost his pulse. I think it was a fatal wound rather than envenomation that hit him or both? Hmmm. The barb punctured his rib cage which shields the heart. The depth of the wound might have cause the fast slow downed pace of blood pump. If stingray’s toxin got through his cardiovascular system, it might have affected its function too.

    It is just really sad how unusual his death was.

    Sep 6, 2006 | 12:45 am

  25. Nila says:

    I lived in Bohol and my father used to catch string rays. He even preserved the tail of that string rays ( and joked of using it if we are naughty ). But no, HE DID NOT USED THAT THING BY ANY MEANS. When he passed away about ten years ago, we did throw it that ikog pagi. I feel sorry for Steve Irwin’s wife and the kids. I was disgusted watching him ( Steve )in one of his show holding his infant child while feeding the crocodile. He was endangering that poor little child. What he was thinking?

    Sep 6, 2006 | 1:00 am

  26. acmr says:

    His accident is truly a freak accident. I have mixed feelings about the croc hunter. Thought he was really stupid feeding a croc with one hand and clutching his infant son with the other. But he IS entertaining to watch otherwise.
    Being a diver myself, I have seen rays of different kinds in Batangas and Bohol. I have seen small ones that are less than a foot wide (like the blue spotted one in pic), marble rays that are round and as big as a coffee table top, and also manta rays that have 10-16 feet wingspan. Just like sharks, they avoid humans! They are afraid of bubble breathing scuba divers. It makes me wonder if they were in fact chasing the rays so the cornered sting rays had to choice but to fight back. It’s really a dilemma. Where do we draw the line between environmental education and encroaching upon a species’ natural habitat?

    Sep 6, 2006 | 6:44 am

  27. hchie says:

    Mr.”Cricky” as my grandson calls him, will be sorely missed. His sometimes risky antics was what made people watch his shows.My mom said that the “buntot ng pagi” was used as a weapon,like a whip.

    Sep 6, 2006 | 8:43 am

  28. Zita says:

    Talking about the Croc Hunter will arouse good and ill feelings. Like many I thought he was over the top, foolish etc. But when I saw him at Andrew Denton’s interview, it gave me a reason to respect what he does and how he is a person. Sure he’s an okka, but that’s just the way he is. He made heaps of money, but it all went back to his zoo and purchasing lands so they can set it up as a preserved haven for animals. His family lives in a the same low set home in the middle of the zoo. In 2002 Australia Zoo managed to topple the Gold Coast’s theme park giants Dreamworld and Sea World to take out the Queensland tourism industry’s major award for best major tourist attraction.
    We all thought he was ten feet tall and indestructable. He will be missed by all. I am sure that his legacy will live on, Terri his wife, Bindi and Bob will forge ahead.

    Sep 11, 2006 | 2:49 pm


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