Endangered whale kills rescuer moments after he frees it from fishing net

Joe Howlett participated in the rescue of many whales including this one in Aug. 2016

A Canadian man has been killed during a rescue operation after he cut an endangered whale free from tangled fishing lines.

A statement from the federal Fisheries Department said only that someone was killed on board one of its vessels, but it did not provide any details out of respect for family members.

Howlett had successfully rescued over two dozen whales caught in lines over the past 15 years, his friends said. "His expertise and dedication will be greatly missed", he added.

The minister added that rescue missions can be risky at times and that Howlett had rescued another North Atlantic right whale a week before his death.

"They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip", Green said. Though the giant marine animals could be unpredictable when trapped, for Howlett, setting a whale free was worth the painstaking, risky work, friends said.

The DFO is working with mammal experts, scientists and fisheries officials across Atlantic Canada to investigate the deaths of at least five endangered right whales off Canada's eastern coast recently. "I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear".

LeBlanc added that any disentanglement attempt carries serious risks, and whales can be unpredictable.

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Howlett started the Campobello Whale Rescue Team together with Green in 2002.

Joe Howlett, a lobsterman, boat captain, and certified whale disentanglement expert, had worked previously as the captain of the M/V Shelagh, a Canadian Whale Institute vessel that conducted joint field surveys with the aquarium, the Boston institution said in a statement.

"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. It should be noted that the Center also said that "Howlett's death is the only human fatality in the history of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network".

"There's only 850 people here on Campobello Island now and Joe was a very lively character, he had a great sense of humor".

The move comes in response to a number of deaths to endangered whales and the death of Joe Howlett, a whale rescuer.

The aquarium said Howlett "was unique".

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