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Steve Irwin's final moments in the sea

'We had to finish it for him,' fellow explorer Phillippe Cousteau told TODAY's Matt Lauer of the documentary 'Ocean's Deadliest.'
/ Source: TODAY

After a rare stingray attack claimed the life of naturalist Steve Irwin, colleagues of the famed "Crocodile Hunter" quickly decided it would be only fitting that they finish his final documentary, one of them told TODAY this morning.

"We talked about it. We felt it was such a good film. Steve and I were so passionate about it, we had to finish it for him," conservationist Phillippe Cousteau told TODAY anchor Matt Lauer of the conversation that happened just a day and a half after the tragedy four months ago.

Irwin, 44, was filming a scene for his daughter Bindi's upcoming television series when a stingray pierced his heart with its poisonous barb on Sept. 4, 2006. He and Cousteau, the 26-year-old grandson of the famed oceanic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, were in the middle of production of "Ocean Deadliest" when the rare attack occurred.

"Steve did take risks, but he did so to bring the majesty and wonder of this natural world to millions of people around the world," Cousteau told Lauer. "I think that's what we have to remember."

The documentary follows the adventures of the two men as they travel the Australian coastline in search of deadly marine life and the experts who study it. Cousteau said he relieves the tragedy "almost daily" because of the continued media and public interest in Irwin's life and death.

"It was just a freak accident. You certainly couldn't have predicted it," said Cousteau, who remained aboard the boat while Irwin and a cameraman snorkeled a short distance away. "It just happened."

Irwin's widow, Terri, has told the media that no video shot on the day of the accident was used in the documentary. Footage shot by a cameraman as Irwin snorkeled along side the stingray was returned to Terri Irwin by authorities, and has been destroyed, she said.

Cousteau said stingrays should not be considered to be one of the 'ocean's deadliest' and are not included in the film.

Irwin was famous internationally for his high-energy, up-close handling of dangerous animals. Irwin's antics created headlines and controversy in January 2004, when he was filmed holding his then month-old son, Robert, while feeding a crocodile as his zoo in Australia.

"Ocean's Deadliest" premieres as a simulcast event on Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. EDT on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

For more on Phillippe Cousteau's environmental activities visit EarthEcho International.

-- John Springer for TODAY