Whale rescue expert, lobsterman dies in Canada

Published on
July 12, 2017

Joe Howlett, a leading expert in disentangling whales entrapped in fishing gear, died on 10 July while engaged in a rescue operation.

Howlett was on a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) fast-response vessel, attempting to disentangle an endangered North Atlantic right whale off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, when he died, according to a department press release.

“Taking part in whale rescue operations requires immense bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine mammals,” Canada Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in the release. “We have lost an irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community. His expertise and dedication will be greatly missed.”

According to the Canadian Press, Howlett was a local lobster fisherman based in Campobello, New Brunswick. He founded the Campobello Whale Rescue Team in 2012, and had participated in the rescue of about two dozen whales. He was killed just after he had helped disentangle the whale he was in the process of rescuing.

“They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip,” said Mackie Green, who co-founded the rescue group with Howlett.

In other news, marine mammal experts have determined that at least two of the endangered right whales found dead in Canada’s eastern waters in June experienced severe blunt trauma, likely as the result of boat strikes.

A third whale suffered from injuries caused by “chronic entanglement,” according to Marine Animal Response Society, a nonprofit based in Nova Scotia, Canada, which helped to conduct post-mortem examinations on the whales. All of the whales were all in an advanced state of decomposition, it added, making it difficult to determine the cause of death.

“It’s too early to rule out other underlying problems,” the organization said.

Previous media reports said toxic algae may have also played a role in the deaths, which the Marine Animal Response Society called “unprecedented,” as that total represents about one percent of the estimated 525 endangered Northern Atlantic right whales remaining on the planet.

A final report on the deaths will be issued within the next two months.

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