Earlier this week, a fisherman died in Canada after untangling a whale trapped in commercial fishing gear, and now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it’s suspending efforts to disentangle whales that are found trapped by fishing gear and lines.
Canadian veteran fisherman Joe Howlett, 59, was part of a rescue team untangling a whale caught in a fishing gear Monday in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, after Howlett successfully cut the net, the endangered North Atlantic right whale made a movement and hit him, which resulted in his death.
The also former boat captain was a beloved member of his community in Campobello Island and even started a whale conservationist whale organization in 2002, dubbed the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.
Disentangled right whale accidentally kills fisherman who helped rescue it
Mackie Green, co-founder of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team and friend of Howlett, told Tunis Daily News how the accident occurred.
“They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip,” said Green. “Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this. This is something he loved and there’s no better feeling than getting a whale untangled, and I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear.”
Howlett was an accomplished member of the organization and had successfully performed dozens of rescues over the past 15 years since the rescue team was formed. An acquaintance said he had rescued another entangled whale just days earlier.
Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Minister Dominic LeBlanc issued a statement regretting the loss of Howlett, whom he described as an “irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community.” LeBlanc also noted in the statement that disentangling whales comes with serious risks, as entangled whales can be unpredictable.
His remarks were echoed by Jerry Conway, an adviser to the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello.
“You’re dealing with a 70-ton [metric] whale that’s very upset,” told Conway to the Canadian Press. “He is a very knowledgeable fisherman, and who better to do disentanglements than a fisherman who knows the knots and ropes and the gear?”
Whale disentanglements can take up to an hour and usually require four to five people working together to free the animal. Conway added that Howlett is going to be missed in the community, as he was an integral part of a unique group of fishers on Campobello Island.
North Atlantic right whales are dying at alarming rates in Gulf of St. Andrews
LeBlanc told CTV News that Ottawa is currently investigating Howlett’s death. The decision also comes in the midst of an investigation into a series of North Atlantic right whale deaths in eastern Canadian waters.
In recent weeks, several right whales have been found dead in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. A group of wildlife veterinarians said that several of these whales showed signs of blunt trauma, the National Post reported.
On Thursday, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative issued a statement noting two necropsies were performed in the Magdalen Islands, and one of the whales had marks of blunt trauma. The other right whale was too decomposed to determine its cause of death.
The cooperative said the blunt trauma suggests the whale may have collided with a vessel. Earlier, the organization also performed necropsies on two right whales found in Prince Edward Island and determined they also showed signs of blunt trauma.
The National Post reports that as of July 5, authorities had found seven North Atlantic right whale carcasses in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The deaths have concerned many conservationists and represent a devastating blow to the endangered whale’s population, which is now only about 525.
Department of Fisheries urges vessels to reduce speed and report whale sightings
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also announced this week it is suspending efforts to free entangled whales found in the ocean. Kate Brogan, NOAA Fisheries’ public affairs, said the administration is suspending all large whale entanglement response activities nationally until further notice. Brogan said NOAA would review its emergency response protocols.
“NOAA Fisheries and partners will continue to provide all other stranding response services to marine mammals in distress,” said Brogan, as reported by KPBS.
Maine Public Radio reported that whale rescuers and researchers at Allied Whale in Bar Harbor said they hope that NOAA will at least consider certain whale rescue efforts on a case-by-case basis.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Thursday it’s immediately closing sites of the snow crab fishing area where right whales have been seen. The department also urged fishers and commercial sailors to reduce their vessels’ speeds and share any whale sightings.
Source: Tunis Daily News