July 12 (UPI) -- An endangered whale struck and killed a Canadian man after he disentangled the animal from a net, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada agency reported.
Friends said Joe Howlett of Campobello Island, New Brunswick, rescued a North Atlantic right whale, an animal regarded as critically endangered with about 500 left on earth, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. He cut the whale free from tangled fishing lines on Monday.
Moments later he was struck by the whale, which can grow to 50 feet in length, as it turned in the water, the blow killing Howlett.
Seven whales of the species were found dead in the nearby Gulf of St. Lawrence last week.
Howlett, a lobster fisherman, helped found a whale rescue group on the eastern Canadian island near the U.S. border, and had rescued about two dozen whales in the past 15 years, friends said.
Mick Green, a rescue team member, said, "They got the whale totally disentangled, and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip. Joe definitely would not want us to stop because of this. This is something he loved and there's no better feeling than getting a whale untangled, and I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear."
Howlett was aboard a government ship at the time of the incident.
"There's only 850 people here on Campobello Island now and Joe was a very lively character, he had a great sense of humor. Everybody knew Joe Howlett and everybody respected Joe Howlett," said Mayor Stephen Smart. Of Howlett's whale rescues, Smart added, "He did it for years, he was good at it and had a lot of successes."