Woman killed by giant ray in Fla. Keys


A tourist was killed by a large sting ray off the Florida Keys this morning when the barb-tailed animal jumped out of the water into the woman’s boat, officials said.

Judy Kay Zagorski, of Pigeon, Mich., was sitting in a boat going 25 mph when a spotted eagle ray that weighed about 75 pounds and had a wingspan of 5 to 6 feet flew out of the water, said Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The 57-year-old woman’s father was driving the boat on the Atlantic Ocean side of Vaca Key, where the city of Marathon is located, Pino said.


``He had absolutely no warning. It just happened instantaneously,’’ Pino said.

The impact likely killed the woman, but it was not immediately clear if she had any puncture wounds from the ray’s barb, Pino said.

An autopsy will determine an official cause of death, Pino said.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office identified the animal as a spotted eagle ray, he said.

Rays are common in South Florida waters, but rarely swim near humans.

``Rays jump to escape a predator, give birth and shake off parasites,’’ said Lynn Gear, supervisor of fishes and reptiles at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. ``They do not attack people.’’

Deaths from rays are rare.

In 2006, James Bertakis was severely injured in the Intracoastal Waterway in Lighthouse Point when an eagle ray jumped out of the water and lodged its 2-1/2-inch barb in his chest.

A month earlier, the popular TV “Crocodile Hunter,” Steve Irwin was killed when a stingray barb pierced his heart as he swam near Port Douglas, Australia.

Spotted eagle rays can grow up to 17 feet in length, weigh up to 500 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 10 feet. They are known to occasionally jump out of the water but are not aggressive and use the venomous barb at the end of their tail as a defense mechanism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.