July 13, 2017

Killed by the whale he saved

Beloved fisherman who dedicated his life to saving whales is killed by one after he rescued it from tangled ropes

Joe Howlett, 59, was killed Monday in the waters of his New Brunswick, Canada home of Campobello Island, as he used his expertise to assist authorities in the rescue of a North Atlantic right whale. Howlett had successfully rescued over two dozen whales caught in lines over the past 15 years, his friends said.

 Joe Howlett Canadian Fisherman

"He is a very knowledgeable fishermen, and who better to do disentanglements than a fisherman who knows the knots and the ropes and the gear?' Jerry Conway of the Canadian Whale Institute told the Canadian Press. "He was a hero, he knew he was putting his life on the line with a 70-ton whale that is upset … trying to deal with a wild animal. "
It's unclear exactly what led to Howlett's death, but the massive whale apparently made a sudden movement during the rescue. '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 Campobello Whale Rescue Team with Howlett in 2002.

Fisherman who died saving whale saw rescue as a duty

Monday was just another day at work for Howlett.  When he left Campobello, an island off the Maine coast in the Bay of Fundy, he planned to guide a research team surveying the increased number of right whales showing up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.....They were all aboard the Shelagh, a vessel owned by the Canadian Whale Institute, and Howlett was captain. Depending on the weather, he expected to stay out another three or four days, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans asked for his help disentangling a North Atlantic right whale last week and another whale on Monday.

Typically, a vessel will back off immediately after a rescue because whales do respond in seconds to being set free, his friend Jerry Conway said. It can take hours to disentangle some of the whales. While they are entangled they can't move very much, which makes it easy to work with them. 

 Entangled Whale
Entangled whale that Joe Howlett rescued in August, 2016

 Howlett-Freeing Whale 2016

Joe Howlett freeing whale in August, 2016

The team received their training and equipment from the Department of Fisheries in Halifax, including being given a 26-foot, high-speed zodiac boat, which they use to travel across the Bay whenever they were called to a rescue. Rescuers are faced with all kinds of dangers, Conway said, including getting entangled in rope themselves, being dragged over the side of the boat, or being tipped into the water if a whale throws itself around and upsets the boat.

Howlett, who co-founded the Campobello rescue team in 2002, felt a responsibility to save whales and was always thrilled when he could disentangle one from ropes. "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," said Conway, a friend for 18 years.

May his widow, his two sons and his Campobello friends find some small consolation that Joe Howlett died doing what he loved.    May he rest in peace.

Posted by Jill Fallon at July 13, 2017 12:55 PM | Permalink