MIAMI — An 81-year-old boater was in critical condition Thursday after a stingray flopped onto his boat and stung him, leaving a foot-long barb in his chest in an incident recalling the one that killed Australian TV naturalist Steve Irwin last month.
“It was a freak accident,” said Lighthouse Point acting fire Chief David Donzella. “It’s very odd that the thing jumped out of the water and stung him. We still can’t believe it.”
James Bertakis, of Lighthouse Point, Fla., was on the water with his granddaughter and a friend Wednesday when the spotted eagle stingray flopped onto the boat and stung Bertakis as he tried to throw it overboard. The women steered the boat to shore and called 911.
Bertakis, who also suffered a collapsed lung, underwent surgery overnight and surgeons were able to remove the 2.5 inch barb, which had penetrated the wall of his heart.
Doctors were able to remove the barb by eventually pulling it through his heart and closing the wound, said Dr. Eugene Costantini at Broward General Medical Center.
He said Bertakis’ case was different from Irwin’s because the barb stayed in Bertakis’ heart and was not immediately pulled out. Videotape of Irwin’s last moments shows him pulling the barb from his chest.
Ellen Pikitch, a University of Miami marine biology professor who has been studying stingrays for decades, said they are generally docile.
“Something like this is really, really extraordinarily rare,” she said. “Even when they are under duress, they don’t usually attack.”
Lt. Mike Sullivan said the incident occurred on Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway, where stingrays are rarely seen leaping in the air.
“For an 81-year-old man he’s in really good shape,” Sullivan said of Bertakis.
The three-foot-wide stingray died on board the boat and was later removed.
“Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, 44, died when a stingray’s stinger punctured his heart off Australia’s north coast last month. It was one of only a handful of stingray fatalities on record.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.