In Memoriam Joe Howlett
Paying homage to the Bay of Fundy fisherman and co-founder of the Campobello Whale Rescue team who died in July while rescuing an entangled whale
In our March/april 2017 issue, the cover story “Depths of Despair” focused on whales becoming entangled in fishing gear in and around the Bay of Fundy and the volunteer rescuers who save them. In it, photographer and writer Nick Hawkins interviewed, among others, commercial fisherman, team co-founder and lead rescuer Joe Howlett. As has been widely covered in the news media, on July 10 of this year, Howlett was called to help free a whale ensnared in fishing gear off the coast near Shippagan, N.B. The only trained rescuer on board, he singlehandedly managed to liberate the 70-tonne leviathan. When the whale sensed it was free, it suddenly dove. As it did its massive tail struck Howlett a fatal blow. He succumbed almost immediately to his injuries. He was 59. Joe Howlett is survived by a large and proud group of friends and family, including his wife, Darlene, and sons, Chad and Tyler. I was fortunate to meet Joe Howlett in October of 2016, while I was reporting and photographing a story for Canadian Wildlife magazine about the Campobello Whale Rescue Team he co-founded in 2002 with fellow fisherman Mackie Greene. I interviewed Joe as we sat bobbing in his rescue boat on the Bay of Fundy on that beautiful fall evening. We talked about his reasons for volunteering so much time, using all his life’s experience on the water to disentangle whales that would otherwise be doomed to a slow and painful death. He was passionate as he talked about their plight. I was struck by his dedication and commitment.
We talked also about the risks the rescues entailed. Joe understood the dangers of whale disentanglement and still put himself on the front lines, successfully rescuing dozens of whales over the past 15 years. When I asked him about what could be done to improve whale rescue, his reply was simple and to the point: “We need more support to do this job safely and effectively.”
Then he gave the throttle a push and we rushed forward. That’s the moment I took this image of Joe Howlett at the helm of the rescue boat.
I did not know the man well, but after that one day, I am confident that Joe Howlett would want this important work to continue. Clearly what is needed is exactly what Joe said to me that evening in October: more support for the men and women working to free these animals and more effort to prevent whales from becoming entangled. This would be the most fitting tribute to a genuine hero.