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MARY-ELLEN 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

MARY-ELLEN SAUNDERS
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
AUG 12/08

    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 shore.
   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 creatures.
   "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 ground."
    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 them.
    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.
   "Once he 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 him."
   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 their rescue.
   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.
   The 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."
   The International 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.
   Cartwright said the rescue team, which is made up of volunteers, needs financial support from the community.

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