CANBERRA, Australia – "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin (search) has escaped from another predicament. The Australian government on Thursday cleared the exuberant entertainer of allegations that he got too close to penguins, a seal and humpback whales in Antarctica while making a documentary.
Getting too close to Antarctic wildlife can bring fines of up to $720,000 and two years in jail. Had Irwin been convicted, however, his alleged contact would have drawn a far more lenient penalty.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search) revealed on Sky News television that a monthlong Environment Department investigation recommended no action be taken. Irwin had denied any wrongdoing.
"I have been told that after proper examination, a decision has been taken that no action of any kind is necessary," Howard said.
Irwin got some unwanted attention several months ago, when he sparked an uproar for holding his baby in one arm while feeding large crocodiles inside a pen at a zoo. Critics called it reckless, but he said there was no danger to his son.
Howard, who invited Irwin to a lunch with President Bush (search) during a presidential visit in October last, reacted angrily when asked if the latest decision was a case of favorable treatment for a celebrity.
"That is an absurd thing to say, you have no right to say that," Howard told Sky News political editor David Speers. "That is unfair to the Environment Department and it is unfair to Mr. Irwin."
The documentary, "Ice Breaker," was aired by the Animal Planet network last month. It showed Irwin skimming down an icy slope with penguins and lying on a rock near a leopard seal.
Irwin, host of the "Crocodile Hunter" wildlife program, was also suspected of swimming too close to two humpback whales and patting them during the filming earlier this year in the Australian-controlled part of Antarctica.