YDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Steve Irwin, the enthusiastic "Crocodile Hunter" who enthralled audiences around the world with his wildlife adventures, died Monday morning after being stung by a stingray while shooting a TV program off Australia's north coast.Media reports say Irwin was snorkeling at Batt Reef, a part of the Great Barrier Reef about 9 miles (about 15 kilometers) from the town of Port Douglas, when the incident happened.
Irwin, 44, was killed by a stingray barb that pierced his chest, according to Cairns police sources.
Irwin was in the area to film pieces for a show called "The Ocean's Deadliest" with Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques, according to Irwin's manager and friend John Stainton. But weather had prevented the crew from doing work for that program, Stainton said, so Irwin decided to do some softer features for a new children's TV show he was doing with his daughter, Bindi.
"He came over the top of a stingray that was buried in the sand, and the barb came up and hit him in the chest," Stainton said.
Wildlife documentary maker Ben Cropp, citing a colleague who saw footage of the attack, told Time.com that Irwin had accidentally boxed the animal in. "It stopped and twisted and threw up its tail with the spike, and it caught him in the chest," said Cropp. "It's a defensive thing. It's like being stabbed with a dirty dagger."
Ambulance officers confirmed they attended a reef fatality Monday morning off Port Douglas, according to Australian media.
Queensland Police Services also confirmed Irwin's death and said his family had been notified.
Irwin was director of the Australia Zoo in Queensland. He is survived by his American-born wife, Terri, and their two children, Bindi Sue, born 1998, and Robert (Bob), born December 2003.
"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Stainton told reporters in Cairns, according to The Associated Press. "He died doing what he loved best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. He would have said, 'Crocs Rule!' "
"Steve was a larger-than-life force. He brought joy and learning about the natural world to millions and millions of people across the globe," said Discovery Communications founder and chairman John Hendricks in a statement. "We extend our thoughts and prayers to Terri, Bindi and Bob Irwin as well as to the incredible staff and many friends Steve leaves behind."
Irwin's "Crocodile Hunter" show aired on the company's Animal Planet network.
Discovery Communications said it will rename the garden space in front of Discovery's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, the "Steve Irwin Memorial Sensory Garden."
The company also is looking at the creation of a Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter Fund. The fund will support wildlife protection, education and conservation, as well as aid Irwin's Australia Zoo and provide educational support for Bindi and Bob Irwin, the company said.
Australia Prime Minister John Howard said he was "shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death," according to AP. "It's a huge loss to Australia."
Irwin became a popular figure on Australian and international television through Irwin's close handling of wildlife, most notably the capture and relocation of crocodiles.
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