In what police are calling the first death of its kind in Singapore, a longtime professional diver was killed by a stingray Tuesday at a shuttered aquarium, the BBC and Reuters report. Philip Chan, 62, who'd worked at Underwater World since it opened its doors in 1991, was the venue's head diver until it closed down in June, the victim of competition with other local aquariums, but he had stayed behind with nearly a dozen other workers to care for the animals while new homes for them were sought, says a spokesperson from Haw Par Corporation, the aquarium's parent company. Per the New Paper, police say they responded to a call about an injured man shortly after 2pm Tuesday, and he died after being taken to a local hospital. A Haw Par statement says Chan was struck in the chest by the stingray, reports the Independent.
Chan's death is reminiscent of that of Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, who was stabbed hundreds of times and killed by a stingray in 2006. A marine scientist tells the New Paper that while the animals aren't usually aggressive, stingrays in captivity being moved from one place to another might feel threatened and lash out with the poisonous barbs on their spine. Chan called the animals at the park his "babies" and could often be spotted decked out in his scuba gear in the tanks, placing food in the mouths of the stingrays and sharks while visitors snapped photos. Condolences for Chan have been popping up on Facebook, with one user calling Chan "the pillar who stood strong and tall since day one of laying the aquarium's foundations," per the Independent. The police say they're investigating Chan's "unnatural death," and the Haw Par rep says the animal transfer efforts have been put on hold.