KEY WEST, Fla. — The lead story on local television news here Thursday night was the tragic death of a woman who died on a boat after being struck in the head by a spotted eagle ray that leaped from the water near the Florida Keys.
The force of the blow from the 75-pound ray pushed the 57-year-old woman backward, and she died when she hit her head on the boat deck, officials said.
"It's just as freakish of an accident as I have ever heard," said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in local news reports. "The chances of this occurring are so remote that most of us are completely astonished that this happened."
Astonishment also would describe the reaction of the Quiznos Madfin Shark Fishing Series competitors upon hearing the story.
Captain Rob Moore, 38, of Port Charlotte, Fla., has worked as a firefighter and a charter boat captain for almost two decades now. In his duties as a firefighter, Moore has responded to two emergency calls as a result of ray-human collisions.
"One of them punctured a guy's lung, so it happens," Moore said Friday morning.
Without yet knowing the species of the ray involved in the woman's death, Moore correctly guessed it was a spotted eagle ray.
"Those are the ones I see jump all the time," he said. "I've seen these rays jump, not that close to the boat, maybe 30 or 40 yards, and I will think, 'What if that was right here?'
"My sympathy goes out to that family. Could they have done anything different? I don't think so. It's not something you can plan against."
The woman was identified in news reports as Judy Kay Zagorski of Pigeon, Mich. Her father, 88-year-old Virgil Bouck, was piloting the boat at approximately 25 mph out of a channel near Marathon. Zagorski's mother, Verneta, and sister, Joyce Ann Miller, were also in the boat.
"The ray just actually popped up in front of the vessel," Pino said, in news reports. "The father had not even a second to react. It was too late. It happened instantly and the woman fell backwards and, unfortunately, died as a result of the collision."
In the other accident Moore worked, a woman suffered a mild head injury.
"She got hit by the (ray's) wing," Moore said. "But the (boat's) windshield was cracked. It takes a lot of force to crack a plexiglass windshield."
For more information on rays, visit here.
High Praise For ARC Dehooker
ARC Dehooker, a device for safely removing hooks from fish, is a Madfin Shark Fishing Series sponsor, and the company has offered some cash prizes for Madfin competitors who use the product.
But Mike Mahan didn't need any incentive to use the device, after overcoming an initial learning curve. Mahan is Moore's partner on Team Andros, which had Thursday's high score of 2,600 points.
"Mike has got it down," Moore said. "He has shown me time and time again that is a simple machine. It's a simple tool and it's a great tool. You've just got to understand the tool. Once you understand it, it opens up all the doors for you."
Those are doors to points in the Madfin Series, where conservation is emphasized and successfully unhooking a shark doubles the point total for the shark species caught.
"He was popping hooks left and right," Moore said. "Last year, especially, but the last two years that's what has kicked our butts so bad, getting that hook out."
Mahan explained his indoctrination to the ARC Dehooker, saying, "At our captains' meeting we had a demonstration. I'm looking at it. I think, 'Okay, I've got that, let's try it.'
"One of the things we try to ensure is that we get the hook out, especially in a nurse shark because that can result in a point deduction if you don't.
"We were 100 percent today two nurse sharks and eight lemons."
Said Moore, "Mike takes the leader, pops it and we're done. Last year we'd spend 15 minutes trying to get the hook out."
The ARC Dehooker is made in various sizes and lengths for different species of fish. It received a 2006 IGFA Conservation Award.
For more information, see www.arcdehooker.com.
Shark Tag Recovered
Several anglers in the Madfin Series have worked with the Apex Predator Program of the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in a shark tagging study that began in 1962. During that time, over 200,000 sharks in all 52 species have been tagged and over 12,000 tags have been recovered.
That list of recovered tags grew by one Thursday when Team Andros' Moore and Mahan removed the small plastic capsule from a lemon shark they caught. Moore, Carter Andrews and Bill Brown are among the Madfin charter boat captains who have helped tag sharks in the past, according to Dr. Nancy Kohler, and Brown has written articles for the research group, which is based in Narragansett, R.I.
A telephone call to Kohler on Friday revealed that the lemon shark was tagged on Aug. 23, 2005, near the Marquesas Keys, an uninhabited group of islands located about 30 miles west of Key West.
Information on shark species distribution, migration patterns and longevity has been compiled in the tagging program, according to Kohler. As far as longevity, the oldest shark species documented has been a sandbar shark that was 27.8 years old. The oldest lemon shark 10.9 years old.
The six episodes of the 2008 Quiznos Madfin Shark Series will air on ESPN2, beginning April 6
at 9:30 a.m. ET. For a complete TV schedule and more information on the series, log on to QuiznosMadfin.com