A Canadian lobster fisherman who saved dozens of endangered whales after they became tangled in fishing nets has been killed – moments after a last successful rescue.
Joe Howlett succeeded in rescuing the whale, only to be struck by it moments later as it flipped into the water. He was a lobster fisherman by trade and a founder of the whale rescue group on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.
The rescue was steeped in urgency: in the past month seven north Atlantic right whales have been found floating lifelessly in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off Canada. With a global population believed to be around 525, the string of deaths suggests that more than 1% of the population has died in recent weeks.
The animal was a North Atlantic right whale – an endangered species that may grow to about 15m (50 feet) in length and weigh up to 70 tonnes.
The species is “critically endangered”, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said he had rescued another whale days before, on 5 July. Rescuers like Mr Howlett had “immense bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine mammals”.
Howlett had previously saved some two dozen whales over the past 15 years, making use of his deep knowledge of knots and ropes to set the massive mammals free.