Woman killed as stingray leaps into boat in US

By | May 13, 2008

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A woman sunbathing on a boat has died after a stingray leaped from the water, hitting her in the face and knocking her to the deck. The incident, which happened in the Florida Keys, involved a 75lb spotted eagle ray and was described by wildlife experts as a freak accident. Judy Zagorski, 57, of Pigeon, Michigan, was relaxing in the bow of a small fishing pleasure boat going 25 nautical mph when the ray leaped out of the water.

The impact is likely to have killed the woman but it was not immediately clear whether she was also stung by the venomous barb on the ray’s tail, said officials. The boat was being driven by the victim’s father on the Atlantic Ocean side of Vaca Key when the creature, which had a wingspan of five to six feet, came out of the sea..

“He had absolutely no warning. It just happened instantaneously,” said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The woman was taken to the Mariner Hospital in Tavernier, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy will determine an official cause of death. Bobby Dube of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said: “The officer on the scene said she fell and maybe struck her head too. There was a lot of blood on the boat.

“She was just cruising on the boat, thinking they would enjoy a nice day of fun in the sun when something tragic happened.” He said rays leaping out of the water was “natural to them and quite spectacular to watch”. Rays sometimes jump out of the water when they feel threatened and it has been known for rays, who are protected in Florida waters, to mistake the shadow of a fast-moving boat for that of a shark.

Local media reported that the creature’s barb had impaled the woman through the neck. Eagle rays, also called leopard rays or bonnet skates, can have a wingspan of up to 10ft, and, with an 8ft long tail, weigh up to 500lb. They have between two and six short, venomous barbs near the base of their whip-like tails. Lynn Gear, a local wildlife expert, said: “Rays jump to escape a predator, give birth and shake off parasites. They do not attack people.”

This was not the first such incident in Florida. A spotted eagle ray stung James Bertakis, 83, in October 2006. Although the barb entered his heart chamber, he has made an almost full recovery. Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife expert, died the same year when a stingray’s barb pierced his chest off the Great Barrier Reef. – telegraph

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