A video still showing Joe Howlett in August of 2016 as he rescued an endangered right whale caught up in a mass of fishing gear.A video still showing Joe Howlett in August of 2016 as he rescued an endangered right whale caught up in a mass of fishing gear.

Members of the marine mammal rescue and research community are mourning the loss of a Canadian fisherman who died this week after freeing an entangled right whale off the coast of New Brunswick. Joe Howlett, of Campobello Island, founded a Canadian whale rescue team and was considered an expert in whale rescue. Now officials at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are suspending whale disentanglements until it can complete a review its own emergency response protocols.

<span class="no-link">COA Allied Whale research associate and marine mammal stranding coordinator Rosemary Seton.</span>COA Allied Whale research associate and marine mammal stranding coordinator Rosemary Seton.“To hear that NOAA has suspended all entanglements, I think it has just given us all pause to sort of try and understand what happened and how we work better and to try and keep it as safe as possible,” says Rosemary Seton of Allied Whale, a marine mammal laboratory at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Seton is the stranding coordinator for the northeast region of Maine and a Research Associate with the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. She says most people have no idea of the power an ensnared and frightened right whale.

“Even if the animal doesn’t even touch you, just the force of it pushing away with its flukes can push you aside,” she says. “It’s immensely powerful and I think people underestimate that.”

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