The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has decided to halt large whale entanglement rescue efforts after accidental death of a veteran whale rescuer Joe Howlett.
Howlett had a number of successful whale rescue missions under his belt and was the cofounder of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. Howlett was an experienced rescuer who was able to use his years of experience working as a lobster fisherman in his commitment to save entangled whales.
Being an active whale rescuer, he was one of the “fast response” vessels that were attempting to rescue a North Atlantic right whale that had gotten entangled on the fishing lines off the coast of New Brunswick.
The team successfully disentangled the right whale, but soon after the whale was rescued, it made a “big flip” and accidentally struck Howlett on July 10. Owing to this accident and death of Howlett, NOAA decided to halt the large whale entanglement rescue efforts to review their current emergency response protocols.
Howlett’s death is the first recorded death in the community of individuals seeking to free large whales from disentanglement.
According to Howlett’s teammate, Mackie Green, disentangling whales was something that Howlett loved and that he would not have wanted the team’s efforts to stop. This statement came just before NOAA’s decision to halt such rescue efforts.
The suspension is a temporary one and only applies to rescue efforts of large whale so as to garner time to review their protocols when it comes to rescuing large whales from disentanglement. Further, the NOAA will continue with their efforts to rescue other marine mammals in distress during the suspension.
The rescue efforts of large whales including the North Atlantic right whales makes sense considering that these species of whale are registered as “endangered” in the Endangered Species Act and “depleted” in the Marine Mammal Protection Act.