The Campobello Island community is mourning Joe Howlett, the man who was killed Monday while trying to rescue a whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

 Joseph Howlett

In this photo Joe Howlett is pictured with his son, Tyler Howlett. (Tyler Howlett/Facebook)

"There's only 850 people here on Campobello Island now and Joe was a very lively character, he had a great sense of humour. Everybody knew Joe Howlett and everybody respected Joe Howlett," said Stephen Smart, mayor of Campobello Island, which is located in southwestern New Brunswick near the U.S. border.

"It's a big blow."

Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed there was a fatal incident on July 10 involving an individual aboard one of its vessels.

"The department is deeply saddened by this incident and sends its thoughts and condolences to the individual's family," spokesperson Krista Petersen wrote in an email.

'He was a very brave man'

Smart said Howlett, a father and husband, had been working to rescue a whale at the time he died.

"He did it for years, he was good at it and had a lot of successes," said Smart. "I'm sure for him, I'm sure it was just another day at work ... he was a very brave man, a very good man and was doing something he believed in.

"If there's any silver lining, he was helping, right? It's a very, very steep price to pay."

CBC News contacted the Canadian Whale Institute, a marine life conservation group that had worked with Howlett in the past, on Monday night. A member said the group would have a comment Tuesday when it has more information about the death.

With files from Radio-Canada and Shaina Luck