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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Inquiry into fatal attack by seal
Kirsty Brown
Kirsty Brown's colleagues said she was a 'vibrant, dynamic individual'
An investigation is under way into the death of a British scientist who was attacked by a leopard seal in the Antarctic.

Kirsty Brown, 28, from West Sussex, was snorkelling in waters close to the Rothera Research Station when the animal approached her and pulled her under.

Colleagues who witnessed the attack on Tuesday immediately launched a rescue boat to try to save her.

Although they managed to retrieve her body and begin resuscitation, the marine biologist could not be revived.

She was an experienced diver, who had worked for the Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (Bas), which runs Rothera, for more than a year.

In a joint statement, the family said: "Naturally we are devastated about the news from the Antarctic - it all seems quite unreal.

Map, BBC
"Kirsty was a great girl and we are all very proud of her. Right now we are looking to spend some quiet time at home with the family."

The family were comforting each other at home in Southwater, near Horsham, West Sussex.

Bas has launched an investigation and Nick Sanders, a Falklands coroner with responsibility for British Antarctic Territory, will hold an inquest in due course, the Foreign Office said.

Bas director, Professor Chris Rapley, said: "This is tragic and shocking. My heart goes out to Kirsty's family and her colleagues at Rothera.

"Kirsty was a vibrant, dynamic individual, committed to her science and with a promising scientific career ahead of her.

"The Rothera team reacted in a highly efficient and professional manner of which we, and they, can be proud. They are, however, shaken by the loss of a colleague and will need our support."

Rare attack

Leopard seals are often inquisitive when they encounter humans. However, they are not generally known to attack humans unless provoked.

Bas has been carrying out research involving snorkelling and diving for the last 30 years.

Leopard seal
Leopard seals can weigh 500 kg
Ms Brown, a graduate of both Royal Holloway College, University of London, and Southampton University, was with her snorkelling "buddy" when the seal pulled her underwater.

Her research project involved looking at the impact of iceberg scouring on Antarctic near-shore marine animal communities. She was a qualified and experienced scientific diver.

Medical facilities at Rothera include a surgery with emergency facilities. There is a full-time doctor at the station to deal with general health care and emergencies.

Resuscitation efforts at the base were said to have lasted an hour.

The BBC's Tom Heap
"She was the life and soul of the isolated base"


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