How Whale Rescuer Was Killed by Whale He'd Just Freed

'He probably didn't feel anything'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2017 2:34 PM CDT
Inside Whale Rescuer's Death: 'It Was Catastrophic'
This 2015 photo frame from video provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare shows Joe Howlett off the coast of Campobello Island in Canada.   (IFAW via AP)

"He was really happy at his very last moment," Philip Hamilton tells the CBC. "I take some comfort in that." The research scientist was the only person not employed by Canada's Fisheries and Oceans department to witness the July 10 death of volunteer whale rescuer Joe Howlett. Now, two months after Howlett's death, Hamilton is telling the story of how it happened. Howlett, Hamilton, and the crew of the Shelagh were supposed to be doing research but kept getting waylaid by North Atlantic right whales that had become tangled in fishing lines and needed rescuing. There are at most 500 right whales left, and the Canadian government has given permits and some funding to Howlett's Campobellow Whale Rescue Team to save the ones that need saving.

On July 10 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it was North Atlantic right whale No. 4123's turn. On the Shelagh's first pass, Howlett was able to cut one of the lines snaring the whale using a knife at the end of a long handle, Hamilton says. "We're doing it," Howlett yelled to the crew. He was right. Howlett had the whale free in under 15 minutes. But as the whale was diving, its tail swung into the boat, smashing into Howlett hard. "It was catastrophic," Hamilton says. "He probably didn't feel anything." Hamilton attempted CPR for 90 minutes but was unable to revive the 59-year-old whale rescuer. Since Howlett's death, Hamilton has seen No. 4123 swimming in the area, leaving the whale-lover with conflicted feelings. "I would rather Joe were alive," he says. Read the full story here. (More North Atlantic right whale stories.)

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