New Brunswick

'A big fish in this small beautiful pond': Campobello remembers fallen whale rescuer

A crowd of about 400 gathered for the funeral of Joe Howlett, who died rescuing whales near Shippagan.

'He’d make the worst day feel like the best and the best day feel even better,' says son

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

About 400 people gathered for the funeral of a New Brunswick man who died rescuing a whale on Monday.

Joe Howlett, 59, was freeing a whale from snow crab fishing lines when he died near Shippagan.

The funeral was held at the Wilson's Beach Baptist Church in Wilson's Beach, Campobello. While the church usually holds 150 people, they made room for 400.

Howlett's son Tyler is one of the many who shared memories of his father.

"He was just the funniest guy," he said. "He had a joke for everything. Every little thing, it wouldn't even matter he'd have a joke for it.

"He'd make the worst day feel like the best and the best day feel even better."

Tyler reminisced about spending time with his father, who was also a commercial fisherman.

"We've seen some sunrises and sunsets together and I'll tell you what: it was just gorgeous," he said.

Tyler said his father would often wear clothing with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team logo to strike up conversations with people he met about the group's work.

"Dad didn't get a big paycheque or nothing like that, it was the reputation, and how many people do you know that saves whales,"

"He just loved the reputation. Going out there, doing it, freeing something."

Popular figure on island

Howlett's nephew Andrew spoke about the popularity of his uncle.

"With so many of you here, it's obvious Joe was a big fish in this small beautiful pond of Campobello," he said.

"Always on the move I'm sure there were times his family wanted Joe tangled up just to spend more time with him."

Jerry Conway, an adviser with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, said that most people on the island would wave to each other when they drove by. He said Howlett wanted to be unique and would flash a peace sign instead.

Among the mourners at the funeral were three of the DFO officers who accompanied Joe on the whale rescue that took his life.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic Leblanc was also in attendance.

With files from Matthew Bingley