After Whale Kills Man Who Rescued It, NOAA Reacts

US, Canada temporarily suspend right whale rescue operations
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2017 4:29 PM CDT
A right whale side-feeds just below the surface of Cape Cod Bay off shore from Wellfleet, Mass., in April.   (Center for Coastal Studies via AP)

(Newser) – The US and Canada are suspending their official efforts to free North Atlantic right whales tangled in fishing lines after the death of a rescuer during an operation Monday. NPR reports former Canadian fisherman and whale rescue expert Joe Howlett had just cut a right whale free from fishing lines when it fatally struck him as it swam away. His death is being called a "devastating tragedy" by other whale rescuers. Following Howlett's death, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division says NOAA "is suspending all large whale entanglement response activities nationally until further notice" while it reviews how it handles emergency situations.

The Canadian government is likewise temporarily freezing its efforts to free right whales while it reviews how its Fisheries Department responds to whale entanglements, the Canadian Press reports. It will continue to offer help untangling other whale species on a case-by-case basis. According to the Washington Post, it's unclear how long the moratoriums will last and how nonprofit groups that had been authorized by the US and Canada to free trapped whales will respond. It's also unclear how the halt of official rescue operations will affect right whales themselves. The whales are critically endangered, with only about 500 believed to be left in the wild. (Read more whales stories.)

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