Nova Scotia

Marine group wants to resume rescuing right whales

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put a hold on the disentangling operations in July after Joe Howlett of the Campobello Island Whale Rescue Team was killed.

'We do need to move on,' says director of the Marine Animal Response Society

Joe Howlett participated in the rescue of many whales before his death last month, including this one in August 2016. (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

A Halifax-based marine mammal rescue group says it would like to continue rescuing right whales.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans paused responses to entangled right whales in July after the death of Campobello Island fisherman Joe Howlett. 

"We do still have whales that are entangled right now, we've had a few in the last little while and people really, we do need to move on," Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society, told CBC Radio's The Current.

'Safety is first and foremost'

Howlett was working from a DFO vessel during the rescue operation of an entangled right whale off the eastern coast of New Brunswick.

Wimmer said Howlett was part of "one of the world's best teams" involved with whale rescues. She said his team is "highly trained" and "safety is first and foremost for anyone doing any of these responses."

DFO is in the midst of a review of its policies and practices regarding its responses to whale entanglements. The hold on responding to entangled right whales will be in place until the review is complete.

DFO said no group can carry out a whale disentanglement without a licence. 

The department has asked its Section 52 licence holders, which represents a small group of trusted and expert stakeholders, to suspend North Atlantic right whale disentanglements until further notice.

Pause on disentangle efforts

As of Aug. 7, 10 right whales have been found dead along the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Each case of entanglement for other types of whales will also be carefully assessed by DFO to see if and how to respond. In addition, DFO closed a gulf fishery early to help protect right whales.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also reviewing its protocols and has also temporarily suspended its whale rescuing efforts.

Wimmer said whale rescue groups need to know when their teams can resume their work.

"Because until we deal with mitigation and reducing these threats, unfortunately we do need to have people who are at the ready to help us save these whales," she said.

With files from CBC Radio's The Current