When Jon Lien left the United States in 1968 for Memorial University, Newfoundland where he was to teach animal behaviour, he had no particular interest in whales. His childhood had been spent on farms in South Dakota, and to obtain his doctorate at Washington State University he had studied the behaviour of a small marine bird, the Leach’s storm-petrel. However, in 1978 he received a call from an inshore fisherman: three months previously a humpback whale had become entangled in a net and was still imprisoned and unable to feed. Nobody appeared capable of helping the fisherman, not even fisheries’ officers. Jon Lien arrived at the scene and managed to free the animal. News spread quickly among fishermen. Since then he has set up a project with a small group of assistants to attempt to resolve this serious problem in Newfoundland. Every time a whale gets tangled in a net it brushes with death and for the fisherman it can mean ruin, depending on the extent of damage caused to the equipment. Understandably, fishermen now hasten to contact Jon Lien and his team when a whale gets caught in their nets. In this way Jon Lien has liberated hundreds of whales since 1978!
This experience awakened his interest for all situations where human activities and marine mammals come into conflict. His understanding of animal behaviour and his savoir-faire enable him to be involved in a variety of problems such as reducing incidental catches in fishing gear, evaluating marine mammal disturbance, reducing losses to predatory birds on aquaculture farms , and developing fishing techniques for long-term exploitation of marine resources.
Jon Lien passed away on April 15, 2010 at the age of 71. Respected by his peers, held in high esteem by fishermen and other seafarers, and active in informing the public, Jon Lien is making a difference so that humans and marine animals can live in greater harmony where their two worlds meet. His work with entangled whales continues thanks to Wayne Ledwell and the entire team at Whale Release and Strandings Newfoundland and Labrador.