Canadian fisherman Joe Howlett, an active advocate of whale rescue, was killed trying to help a whale 

Joe Howlett, 59, was known as an “irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community” by the Canadian government.

Howlett was the co-founder of Campobello Whale Rescue Team, and was a veteran fisherman and participant in whale rescues. In 15 years, he has assisted in over 20 whale rescues.

Howlett was killed on Monday after attempting to free a North Atlantic Right Whale entangled in a fishing line off the coast of New Brunswick.

Although Howlett’s cause of death was not immediately released, a friend who had been present during the rescue stated that Howlett “was hit by the whale just after it was cut free and started swimming away”.

Whale rescue is an immensely risky and dangerous process, dealing with the large marine animals who are often terrified and eager to escape from whatever they are trapped in, usually commercial fishing gear.

Whale rescuers use inflatable boats capable of traveling at high speeds to approach ensnared whales, and special bladed extension poles are used to slice through the lines trapping the whale.

The most dangerous part of the rescue is after the whale is freed. Whales typically roll over to escape, and rescuers could get dragged over the side of the boat or also entangled and dragged under by the whale.

Howlett praised for his commitment to rescuing whales

The Canadian Minister Dominic LeBlanc stated of whale rescues: “Taking part in whale rescue operations requires immense bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine animals.”

Fellow rescuers Jerry Conway said Howlett was never happier than when he was rescuing.

“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.”