Philip Chan, a longtime diver at Underwater World Singapore, once told The Strait Times he treated the marine animals "like my babies" and, since the aquarium was closing, said it was sad to say goodbye to his "band of friends."
Tragically, Chan, 62, lost his life Tuesday while helping transport his "friends" from Underwater World Singapore to another aquarium. The circumstances around his death immediately brought to mind Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter" who died in 2006 after being stung in the heart by a stingray off the Great Barrier Reef.
Chan worked at Underwater World Singapore since it opened in 1991 and was one of 10 staff members kept on after the closure in June to help care for the animals until homes could be found for them. The BBC reported they are being relocated to China.
While transferring a stingray from the tank, Chan was pierced in the chest by the barb of a stingray, according to The New Paper.
Chan was transported to Singapore General Hospital where he died of his injuries.
Aquarium visitors would often see Chan in the tank in scuba gear placing food in the mouths of stingrays and sharks during feeding time. His love for the marine animals he cared for was evident.
"They are so quietly tame," he told The Strait Times after the closure was announced. "I treat [them] like my babies.
"We intend to find them the best homes and environment. The next time I see them, I might not recognize them anymore, but if I dive, they might recognize me."
Chan was bitten a few times by the sharks that mistook him for fish, but they quickly let go when realizing he wasn't food.
"Whenever I get in danger, I just keep calm," Chan had said. "I can overcome any danger by just being calm."
Alas, he couldn’t keep the stingray calm.
Dr. Tan Heok Hui, an ichthyologist, told The New Paper that stingrays in captivity can feel provoked and in stressful situations try to retaliate by stinging.
"Stingrays attack when they feel threatened, cornered or alarmed," he added. "Sometimes, a stingray might feel threatened when someone accidentally steps on it.
"Stingrays have backward pointing barbs on the spine that have serrated edges. They don’t just cause physical pain, the toxins in the spine can also cause extreme discomfort. When a spine pierces human flesh, it breaks and releases toxins into the flesh.
"Stingrays are not usually aggressive, and choose defensive methods to protect themselves. However, stingrays are still wild animals, and when provoked and left with no choice, they will defend themselves using their sting."
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