Man killed trying to rescue whale in Gulf of St. Lawrence
The Campobello Island community is mourning Joe Howlett, the man who was killed Monday while trying to rescue a whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“There’s only 850 people here on Campobello Island now and Joe was a very lively character, he had a great sense of humour. Everybody knew Joe Howlett and everybody respected Joe Howlett,” said Stephen Smart, mayor of Campobello Island, which is located in southwestern New Brunswick near the U.S. border.
“It’s a big blow.”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed there was a fatal incident on July 10 involving an individual aboard one of its vessels.
“The department is deeply saddened by this incident and sends its thoughts and condolences to the individual’s family,” spokesperson Krista Petersen wrote in an email.
‘He was a very brave man’
Smart said Howlett, a father and husband, had been working to rescue a whale at the time he died.
“He did it for years, he was good at it and had a lot of successes. I’m sure for him, I sure it was just another day at work … he was a very brave man, a very good man and was doing something he believed in,” said Smart.
“If there’s any silver lining, he was helping, right? It’s a very, very steep price to pay.”
CBC News contacted the Canadian Whale Institute, a marine life conservation group that had worked with Howlett in the past, on Monday night.
Howlett was in the boat when the suddenly liberated whale did something that led to the 59-year-old's death, although the details were not yet clear.
"The whale apparently swam away free from the gear," Jerry Conway, an adviser with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said Tuesday.
"The whale responded in a way that ultimately killed Joe."
Typically, a vessel will back off immediately after a rescue because whales do respond in seconds to being set free, Conway said.
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.
Rescuers are faced with all kinds of dangers, he 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.
But 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.