Fisherman killed by whale after freeing it from fishing net

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CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick — A fisherman known for rescuing whales tangled in fishing lines and nets was killed Monday, moments after freeing an endangered right whale, the Canadian Press reports.

Joe Howlett had just finished cutting the last piece of rope from the massive whale in the waters off eastern New Brunswick when the whale did a flip and struck him, friends told the paper.

“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 Campobello Whale Rescue Team said.

“[Mackie] and his team have worked with over 20 whales, risking their lives driving a Zodiac up next to animals that can be 40 to 70 or more feet long, and cutting through the lines entangling them,” the website states.

Mackie said Howlett would want them to continue the mission.

“Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this,” Mackie told the Canadian Press. “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.”

This video posted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare shows Howlett working to free a right whale in 2016.

“A 6 year old endangered whale was found caught up in a huge mass of fishing gear. Thankfully the Campobello Whale Rescue Team found him in time. After five hours of grueling work, the whale was freed — and can go back to enjoying the plankton in the Bay of Fundy,” IFAW stated the caption.

Howlett was well-known in the whale rescue community.

“The Canadian Whale Institute is deeply saddened by the sudden death of Joe Howlett, a brave friend and hero who lost his life freeing a whale tangled in fishing gear. Joe, who co-founded the CWI Campobello Whale Rescue Team in 2002, was committed to saving whales. He was very concerned about the state of the ocean and the potential for entanglement of whales. He was also a valued and respected member of his Campobello Island community,” the Canadian Whale Institute stated Wednesday.

Accidental entanglement in fishing nets and gear is the biggest global threat to whales, dolphins and porpoises, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation states.

It estimates unintentional capture kills hundreds of thousands of individuals every year.