Whale rescue efforts suspended after accidental death of a veteran whale rescuer

Joan Terry
July 16, 2017

Joe Howlett, 59, was freeing a whale from snow crab fishing lines when he died near Shippagan.

With NOAA suspending whale rescue operations in the aftermath of Howlett's accidental death, there has also been some scrutiny in the rescuer's home country of Canada, according to a report from CTV News Montreal.

Howlett comes from the small town of Campobello Island, N.B. where residents are mourning the loss of the "irreplaceable whale rescuer" who saved the lives of over two dozen whales in the last 15 years. The whale then flipped over, hitting Howlett, killing him on impact. "Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this. 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".

The most unsafe part of the rescue is after the whale is freed.

His was the first recorded death in the community of individuals seeking to free large whales from disentanglement.

The Canadian Minister Dominic LeBlanc stated of whale rescues: "Taking part in whale rescue operations requires enormous bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine animals".

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His remarks were echoed by Jerry Conway, an adviser to the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello.

As of July 6, seven right whale carcasses have been found floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Tests performed earlier on two right whales in Prince Edward Island also showed signs of blunt trauma. The other right whale was too decomposed to determine its cause of death.

The group said the marks suggest the endangered whale may have collided with a vessel. Activists like Howlett cut right whales lose from the nets when they become entangled. The deaths have concerned many conservationists and represent a devastating blow to the endangered whale's population, which is now only about 525.

Chris Oliver, assistant administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries department, says in a statement the agency is suspending whale entanglement response efforts until further notice to review its "own emergency response protocols". According to the United States agency, which faces several such cases each year, the intention is to "review the response protocols in light of this event". She continued by saying NOAA Fisheries and their partners will continue to respond to all other marine mammals that are in distress. This statement came just before NOAA's decision to halt such rescue efforts.

Other reports by BadHub

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