As a result of the accidental death of a veteran whale rescuer in the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence on July 10, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is suspending large whale rescue efforts until further notice.
Suspending Whale Entanglement Rescue Efforts
The announcement regarding the suspension of whale rescue efforts comes a few days after the death of Joe Howlett, a former fisherman and boat captain and cofounder of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.
On July 10, Howlett was on one of the "fast response" vessels that were attempting to rescue a North Atlantic right whale that had gotten entangled on the fishing lines off the coast of New Brunswick. However, he was accidentally struck by the animal just as he was swimming away.
According to Howlett's teammate, Mackie Green, the whale made a "big flip" right after they had disentangled it from the net. It was because of the nature of the accident that the NOAA saw it fit to halt the large whale entanglement rescue efforts to review their current emergency response protocols.
His was the first recorded death in the community of individuals seeking to free large whales from disentanglement.
Risks Of Disentanglement Efforts
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Dominic LeBlanc acknowledged Howlett's contribution to the whale entanglement rescue efforts while also noting the risks and dangers involved.
"Mr. Howlett's notable experience and contribution to whale rescue include his very recent and critical role in successfully freeing an entangled whale on July 5," said LeBlanc. "There are serious risks involved with any disentanglement attempt. Each situation is unique, and entangled whales can be unpredictable."
Howlett was an experienced rescuer who was able to use his years of experience working as a lobster fisherman in his commitment to save entangled whales. Before the NOAA's announcement, Green further commented that disentangling whales was something that Howlett loved and that he would not have wanted the team's efforts to stop.
It is worth noting that the NOAA's decision was for a temporary suspension of large whale rescue efforts merely to give the agency time to perhaps review their protocols when it comes to rescuing large whales from disentanglement. Further, the NOAA will continue with their efforts to rescue other marine mammals in distress during the suspension.
North Atlantic right whales are a large species of whale that are registered as "endangered" in the Endangered Species Act and "depleted" in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Most of the threats to the species include climate change, ship collisions, entanglement in fishing equipment, noise, habitat degradation, contaminants, and disturbances brought about by whale watching activities.