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Whale Strikes and Kills Canadian Rescuer After He Helps Free It

A fisherman who had for years volunteered to help untangle endangered whales from fishing lines was struck and killed by a whale off New Brunswick, Canada, on Monday shortly after helping in its rescue, a Canadian agency said.

The volunteer, Joe Howlett, was on a Department of Fisheries and Oceans “fast response” vessel and helping to cut lines from an entangled North Atlantic right whale, the department’s minister, Dominic LeBlanc, said in a statement.

Mr. Howlett, who was a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, was struck just after the whale was cut free and began to swim away in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“They got the whale totally disentangled, and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip,” Mackie Green of the team told The Canadian Press. Mr. Green started the rescue team with Mr. Howlett in 2002.

This was the first human fatality in the history of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network, a consortium of trained authorized responders who work along the east coast of Canada and the United States, the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., said in a Facebook post.

In his statement, Mr. LeBlanc said participating in whale rescue operations “requires immense bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine mammals” and described Mr. Howlett as an “irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community.”

He added: “There are serious risks involved with any disentanglement attempt. Each situation is unique, and entangled whales can be unpredictable.”

Mr. Howlett, was remembered on Wednesday as a dedicated volunteer who helped to save dozens of whales over the last 15 years. The International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement he “lived and breathed” that mission.

Jerry Conway of the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello, New Brunswick, told The Canadian Press that Mr. Howlett had freed another North Atlantic right whale only a few days earlier in roughly the same area where he died.

“He is a very knowledgeable fishermen, and who better to do disentanglements than a fisherman who knows the knots and the ropes and the gear?” he said.

Mr. Howlett was featured in a video by the International Fund for Animal Welfare that explained how rescuers use hooked knives at the end of long poles to rescue whales ensnared in fishing ropes.

Being entangled makes it difficult for a whale to dive or swim, which are crucial for feeding. The rescue highlighted in the video took five hours to complete after the whale got lines wrapped around both its flippers and through its mouth.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with only an estimated 500 left, according to conservationists.

As of July 6, seven right whales were reported dead in the last month in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Marine Animal Response Society in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said on its Facebook page.