Are 'Crocodile Hunter' Fans Taking Revenge on Stingrays?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," September 12, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Last month TV host and wildlife enthusiast Steve Irwin was killed when a stingray's barb pierced his chest. Fans around the world mourned for the 'croc hunter.' But some may be taking their anger of his death to a disturbing level. At least 10 stingrays have been found dead and mutilated on the Australia coast in the past week. Conservationists think this could be an act of revenge.

Here with reaction, we're joined by somebody who knew Steve Irwin, exotic animal trainer Dan Stockdale.

So, Dan, you're in the same business. Would Steve Irwin have wanted his fans to get back at stingrays on his behalf?

DAN STOCKDALE, EXOTIC ANIMAL TRAINER: You know, John, I really believe that Steve would be very disappointed in this. You know, Steve spent his entire career focused on conservation, not killing. And I believe that his total focus was to protect, not to punish species for their natural behavior.

GIBSON: Well if people are — I mean, could part of the explanation not be so much revenge, but people are afraid of stingrays now that the illustration of Irwin's death has made them sort of, well, if they see one nearby, just kill it, better safe than sorry?

STOCKDALE: Yea, I believe there is probably some misinformation out there and some miscommunication. It's real important for the public to understand that stingrays are not predators as we would think of a predator. Their primary diet is mollusks, crustaceans and small fish. They really are not out there preying on anything larger.

Steve Irwin's incident was simply one of those freak accidents. All of us that work with animals, whether they are wild or exotics in captivity or out in nature, we all understand that there is risk involved. And it's just one of those freak accidents that happened. His body happened to be in the wrong position at the wrong time and that's why this occurred. It’s not anything to do with the stingray's natural behavior.

GIBSON: Well, Steve Irwin was swimming nearby the stingray, close enough that the stingray could reach him with the tail and the barb. Why wouldn't it be a correct conclusion to say that the stingray was attacking Steve Irwin because he was afraid of him or angry with him or whatever, but the stingray did attack him?

STOCKDALE: Well what happens with the stingray is when the tail comes up with the barb at the end of it obviously, that's an involuntary motion and that occurs because the stingray has been startled. So it's nothing where the stingray saw him and was going on the attack. It's simply an involuntary motion that happens whenever a stingray is startled and most likely was startled from having both Steve and a cameraman in very close proximity to it.

GIBSON: So, Dan, when you hear about these 10 stingrays turning up dead and some people say mutilated, do you think that's what happening? I mean, don't a certain number of stingrays turn up dead, you know, on a given day anyway or during a given week?

STOCKDALE: Yea, you're going to have a certain number show up. The part that concerns me about this is the word "mutilation." That certainly implies to me that there is an individual or several individuals who are out there acting aggressively towards those animals and again I believe that's due to miscommunication about the stingrays and what their natural behavior is.

GIBSON: Exotic animal trainer Dan Stockdale, a friend, acquaintance of Steve Irwin. Dan, thanks very much, appreciate it very much.

STOCKDALE: Thank you, John.

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