Shippagan – Campobello Island resident, Joe Howlett, a well-known member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, died Monday, while trying to rescue a whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Jerry Conway, advisor and member with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said the tragic accident occurred between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Monday morning, outside of Shippagan, N.B., in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Conway, who worked with Howlett on the Campobello Whale Rescue Team since 2002, said there had been a report of an entangled right whale, and Howlett, 59, captaining a research team on the Shelagh I, went to free the whale. It was the second whale in the last five days Howlett had gone to rescue.
“He went with them to the entangled whale. He was able to cut the lines, and as he cut the lines, and the whale appeared to be free, something happened, and it appeared the whale responded, and as the whale responded, Joe was killed.”
Conway identified Howlett as a long time member of the Campobello Whale Rescue team, and remembered him as “very upbeat.”
“He had a joke for every situation. He was very kind, very gentle, and if anybody needed anything here on the island, Joe was one of the first people here to help them.
“When we had incidents of whales being entangled here in the bay, he would drop whatever he was doing, he would drop getting paid, because this is a volunteer operation, and he would come out and help with disentangled whales,” Conway said.
Howlett, a husband and grandfather, was “extremely well liked,” Conway said, adding the man’s death will be a huge blow to the close knit community.
“He was extremely popular and it’s a huge loss; his death is gonna be a severe loss to the community. Everybody knows everybody here, and everyone knew Joe.
“He was very concerned with whales being entangled in fishing gear, and it was the highlight of his day when he could cut a whale free. He was very dedicated and committed to freeing them.”
As of Friday, seven right whales have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“This is a very unusual phenomena, what’s happening,” Conway said.
“We have to be very careful not to point the finger at the fishermen, we have to bring the fisherman to the table, and ask them to help in coming up with a solution. They’re very innovative, and between us, we can come up with an idea that would work, and removing the danger that led to Joe’s demise.”
Howlett, husband to Darlene, and father to sons Tyler and Chad, was mourned by family and friends on Facebook.
“What an indescribable and tragic loss. Joe was a wonderful person all the way around. My thoughts and prayers for [his wife] Darlene and family during this most horrible time,” one post read.
Quoddy Link Marine, a whale watching business located in Saint Andrews posted on Facebook they were “in shock and utterly heartbroken.”
“All of our love, thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of Joe Howlett and the entire community of Campobello Island. Joe was a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team and was loved by everyone and tragically lost his life [Monday] while disentangling a whale.
“The men and women who disentangle whales put their lives on the line…we can never say thank you enough.”