A fisherman in Canada was struck and killed by a whale that he had helped rescue from a fishing line off New Brunswick on Monday, July 10.
Joe Howlett has been a volunteer for the Campobello Whale Rescue Team for years. His work involved saving endangered whales that get entangled in fishermen's nets.
Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Howlett was on one of their "fast response" vessels on Monday trying to rescue a North Atlantic right whale. The creature managed to get itself stuck in one of the fishing lines in the area.
While Howlett was able to set the whale loose, he was struck by the animal just as it was swimming away from the rescuers.
Mackie Green, Howlett's teammate in the rescue group, recounted that right after they totally disentangled the whale from the net, it suddenly made a "big flip."
Officials said Howlett's death is the first human fatality in the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network's history. The network is made up of trained animal rescuers that patrol the eastern coast of the United States and Canada.
LeBlanc pointed out that working as a whale rescuer requires courage and passion for the welfare of animals in the ocean.
He commended Howlett's contributions to the work, noting that he had also helped rescue another whale from entanglement last week. He regarded the fisherman as an "irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community."
LeBlanc also highlighted the dangers that whale rescuers face every time they try to free animals from entanglement. He said that every rescue attempt is unique and that a trapped whale could act unpredictably while being set loose.
Continuing On With The Mission
Howlett started the Campobello Whale Rescue Team together with Green in 2002. He and his group helped save dozens of marine mammals over the past 15 years.
Green said Howlett would want them to continue their work.
"Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this," Green said.
"This is something he loved and there's no better feeling than getting a whale untangled, and I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear."
Jerry Conway, a member of the Canadian Whale Institute, described Howlett a very knowledgeable fisherman. He said Howlett's skills with the knots and ropes used in fishing made him a good candidate for rescuing animals from entanglement.
The wildlife charity group Whale and Dolphin Conservation considers accidental entanglement in fishing nets as the biggest threat to marine mammals around the world.