Joe Howlett, a well-known emergency responder, who founded a team of whale rescuers based in Canada’s Campobello Island, which is located across the border from Lubec, Maine, died on Monday during the rescue of a right whale that was entangled in fishing gear. Following Howlett’s shocking death, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suspended whale disentanglement efforts.
At the time of his death, Howlett, a former boat captain and fisherman, was in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, freeing a right whale, a species whose population is dwindling, with only about 500 left in the Northern Atlantic. The team of rescuers, a group of fishermen who volunteer their time, worked feverishly to rescue the whale from aboard a fast response vessel. They used long poles with blades attached to the ends to hook and cut the lines that were entangling the whale. After the whale was freed, it struck Howlett as it made a speedy getaway, which led to his death, according to NPR.
Howlett was an expert in his field and his death was a devastating tragedy. His death is believed to be the first among a community of rescuers who seek to disentangle North Atlantic right whales during a rescue attempt. Those who knew Howlett are in a state of shock, according to a statement released by the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
Kate Brogan, a public affairs officer with NOAA Fisheries announced that the agency has formally suspended all large whale entanglement rescue efforts nationally until further notice. During the suspension period, Brogan said the agency plans to review their emergency response protocols. She continued by saying NOAA Fisheries and their partners will continue to respond to all other marine mammals that are in distress.
By Trixie Dillwood
Photo Courtesy Humphreys Funeral Home