A CANADIAN lobster fisherman who saved dozens of whales after they became entangled in fishing lines and nets has been killed during a rescue.
Joe Howlett, 59, was aboard a Fisheries Department vessel in search of a North Atlantic right whale that was caught in fishing rope near the island's coast, The New York Post reports.
The ill-fated rescue ended in tragedy when Mr Howlett was struck by the whale moments after it was released from the rope and began swimming away, according to the Guardian.
"They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip," Mackie Green, of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, told Canadian press.
North American right whales, which can weigh up to 79 tonnes, are considered an endangered species.
A 2011 survey found fewer than 500 right whales in the western North Atlantic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Canada's federal fisheries and oceans department confirmed Mr Howlett's death, and acknowledged that whale rescues can be "unique," and "entangled whales can be unpredictable."
Mr Howlett, originally from New Brunswick, moved to Campobello Island, where he started a family and a career on the sea, according to reports.
Using his deep knowledge of knots and ropes, Mr Howlett saved dozens of whales, working with the island rescue team, the Guardian reported.
"This is something he loved and there's no better feeling than getting a whale untangled," Mr Green, who was not aboard the vessel with Mr Howlett, told the Canadian Press. "I know how good he was feeling after cutting that whale clear."
"He was a great fella and he really cared about the whales," he said.
This story originally appeared in The New York Post and has been republished here with permission.