A Canadian lobster fisherman lost his life on Monday night (10 July) moments after he rescued a whale tangled in a fishing net.

Joe Howlett from Campobello Island, in New Brunswick province, has saved dozens of endangered whales that got entangled in fishing nets during his last 15 years on the seas.

Howlett boarded a vessel off the province's eastern coast on Monday to help rescue a north Atlantic right whale that had become heavily tangled in rope.

He had successfully managed to free the whale – only to be struck by it moments later, local publication paper Medicine Hat News reported.

"They got the whale totally disentangled and then some kind of freak thing happened and the whale made a big flip," Mackie Green of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team told the Canadian press.

On Tuesday, the federal fisheries department confirmed Howlett had died while on one of its vessels. They described him as an "irreplaceable member of the whale rescue community".

"Taking part in whale rescue operations requires immense bravery and a passion for the welfare of marine mammals. There are serious risks involved with any disentanglement attempt. Each situation is unique, and entangled whales can be unpredictable," the department said in a statement.

Just days before his death, Howlett had helped free another North Atlantic right whale in the region by cutting away a fishing line caught in its mouth.

In a 2013 interview, Howlett had told CBC Mainstreet, that rescuing whales is "not a scary situation".

"I'm a fisherman and I've been fishing for half of my life, and I know what it's all about with ropes and things like that," he said at the time.

Endangered species

North Atlantic right whales are an endangered species with a global population of just 525. Despite protection from whaling since the 1930s, these whales have a long history of human exploitation.

One of the main reasons for these whales being easily killed is their slower pace. They also face danger because they tend to come close to land.

Ship collisions, entanglement in fishing nets and separation from calving areas because of shipping traffic are common dangers they face.

Research: Whales Stressed Out By Shipping Noise
North Atlantic right whales are at risk with a global population of just 525 - Representational Image New England Aquarium