A Japanese fisherman was knocked off a small boat in a western Japan bay and died after trying to rescue a straying whale on Tuesday, officials said.

The body of Noriyuki Yamamoto, 58, was recovered by divers from the sea but he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital in Uwajima, said Ehime Prefectural (state) government official Satoshi Nishikawa.

Yamamoto and two other fishermen had joined in a rescue operation by local people when their boat overturned when the sperm whale suddenly impacted the boat, Nishikawa said. The two other fishermen were also tossed into the sea, but they were later rescued.

Local fishermen and officials were trying to coax the whale, about 50 feet long, out of the Uwajima Bay on Tuesday afternoon and into the open sea, when the mammal suddenly went wild, Nishikawa said.

Nishikawa said provincial officials will decide whether to restart rescue efforts Wednesday morning in Uwajima, 419 miles southwest of Tokyo.