SAUNDERS/TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL Joe Howlett, a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue
Team, steers the zodiac the team uses to rescue whales from fishing gear
through the Bay of Fundy from Campobello to St. Andrews Monday.
Fishermen get a
rush rescuing whales
Nature Since 2003, Campobello team has saved
about 20 whales, including six right whales, tangled up in fishing gear
CAMPOBELLO - With
the bitter cold wind slashing at their faces and the damp fog so thick it made
islands look like clouded shadows, the zodiac pounded relentlessly toward
Members of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team and
visiting members of the team's sponsor, the International Fund for Animal
Welfare, held a whalerescue information session at Head Harbour Lighthouse
Monday and went out on the water to spot an endangered right whale.
Although many of the approximately 400 endangered right
whales spend their summers swimming off the coast of Campobello, they were
nowhere in sight Monday.
The rough waves, thick fog and
hours of waiting for a whale to resurface are part of life for whale rescue
members Mackie Greene and Joe Howlett, who make their living fishing and
running whale watching tour boats and get an adrenaline rush by hunting
endangered whales to set them free of fishing gear.
Greene and Howlett stood inside the lighthouse, with the
light of the day shining at their backs, and held up a number of long grey
poles strapped with knives and tools at the tips. They explained that when a
call comes in that a whale is tangled in fishing gear, they drop what they are
doing and jump in the zodiac. They get as close as they can to the whale before
reaching the pole over the side of the boat and cutting the rope off the large
"They only summer heree ans while they are
here, we try to give them a good vacation," said Howlett.
He said some people jump out of air planes for the
adrenaline rush and others, such as himself, try to rescue whales.
"You get pumped up because you could die at anytime,"
said Howlett."When you get back on ground your feet are coming of the
Along with the adrenaline they fee when out on
the water so close to the endangered whales they can smell them the crew also
has a collection of remark- able stories to bring to shore with
Howlett said once while saving a hump backed whale,
it circled the water unde the light-weight boat, sometimes mat ing it come
right off the water, while the crew cut it free.
laid there with his mouth open and Joe was pulling net out of the balene
(whalebone) looking right into his stomach," said Mackie. "Joe was flossing
Humpback whales are easier to rescue, they said,
than right whales, which are known to be stubborn.
Mackie, captain of the whale rescue crew, said since
2003, they have saved six right whales and about 20 whales in total. Mackie
said about three right whales he knows of have died since he began going to
One of the whales that washed ashore, he
said, had been released from its fishing gear earlier.
Mackie said about 75 per cent of right whales have scars
from being caught up in fishing gear and about eight of the endangered whales
are still thought to be bound in ropes and gear.
captain said the whales can be caught in the gear for years and drag it along
with them for long distances. Mackie said he has seen the rope so buried in the
whale that it was not visible and sometimes the rotting flesh of the wound can
be smelled before it is seen.
It is a slow and painful
death, they said, for a whale that dies of entanglement.
"When you see a whale washed up on the beach and it's all
chopped up and cut to pieces with rope, it's so ugly and hard to watch. It's
very sad," said Howlett. "It's about time somebody did something about it."
Barbara Cartwright, campaign chairwoman for the
International Fund for Animal Welfare, said there is a myth in the public that
fishermen do not care about whales and this rescue group made up solely of
fishermen disproves the myth.
Cartwright said the
Campobello group that her group is the only whale rescue crew in Canada that
her group funds. She said it is the only rescue group she knows of in the world
that is made up of fishermen.
"They are fishermen and
they understand the gear so well and that is unique in the world," said
Cartwright. "It comes from growing up with rope. They can look at the gear very
quickly and know what kinds of gear and cuts they need to make. It is quicker
and sometimes you only get one chance."
Fund for Animal Welfare has given the rescue team $10,000 a year for operating
costs. This year, Cartwright said the fund increased the amount to $20,000 a
year and spent $30,000 on new motors for the zodiac to make it quieter and
therefore easier to get closer to the whales.
said the rescue team, which is made up of volunteers, needs financial support
from the community.