Joe Howlett shown in 2015 off the coast of Campobello Island in Canada. IFAW via Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. fisheries regulator is suspending efforts to free whales tangled in fishing line after a Canadian rescuer was killed by a whale after freeing it earlier this week.

Joe Howlett was killed Monday after freeing a North Atlantic right whale that had been entangled in fishing gear off New Brunswick. A close friend of Howlett’s said the 59-year-old veteran fisherman was hit by the whale just after it was cut free and started swimming away.

Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries department, says in a statement that the agency is suspending whale entanglement response efforts until further notice so it can review its “own emergency response protocols.”

Oliver says NOAA Fisheries will continue to respond to other stranded animals.

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