Ship strikes suspected in deaths of right whales

A rare North Atlantic right whale surfaces

A rare North Atlantic right whale surfaces

A Canadian fisherman who saved dozens of whales after they became entangled in fishing lines and nets was killed during what turned out to be his last rescue.

Mr Howlett, a fisherman from Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, had been in the Campobello Whale Rescue Team since 2002.

"Nobody has suggested to me the shipping and the fishing industry don't want to partner with us to take every possible measure to minimize the contact with these whales", LeBlanc said.

"This is something he loved and there's no better feeling than getting a whale untangled", Mackie Greene, the captain of the whale rescue group, told the Canadian Press. In a statement, they called Howlett a "long-time and beloved colleague... who courageously rescued whales and bridged both the fishing and scientific communities". The same crew successfully freed a right whale from entanglement a few days earlier.

"Once he finished the cut, and the rope fell away, you couldn't find a man more excited and happy than Joe for having accomplished this, and seeing the whale swim away free", Jerry Conway told CBC. The whale was trapped in commercial fishing gear.

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Howlett, originally from Chester, New Brunswick, moved to Campobello Island where he started a family and a career on the sea, according to reports.

"The whole island's in mourning here..."

'Joe was the life of the party. He was always upbeat, laughing, telling jokes so the whole island's at a desperate loss ...

'He was a great fella and he really cared about the whales'.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc says more needs to be done to protect right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the lives of those trying to save them.

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Though the department did not detail how Howlett was killed, LeBlanc noted "there are serious risks involved with any disentanglement attempt" and praised those who responded to the emergency for their bravery and passion for marine mammals.

Officials said Howlett's death is the first human fatality in the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network's history.

Howlett's death prompted the US agency that responds to marine mammals in distress to halt efforts to free large whales trapped in fishing gear.

The team's findings still do not explain the extent of the recent die-off, however.

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