Climate change could threaten Acadia's whale watching industry

Climate change could threaten the whale population and the future of the whale watching industry in Bar Harbor and Acadia. (WGME)

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK (WGME) -- Acadia National Park turns 100-years-old on Friday, and in honor of the centennial, CBS 13 is looking at the park's past and future.

However, climate change could threaten the whale population and the future of the whale watching industry in Bar Harbor and Acadia.

A bright blue sky and a brilliant blue ocean set the stage for Zack Klyver's catamaran to head out to sea. He's the lead naturalist for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

"We see four species of larger whale. We see humpback whales, finback whales, right whales, which are endangered, minke whales, we often see big groups of white sided dolphins, we see a lot of harbor porpoise, we see seals. It's kind of like the African Serengeti out there on a great day. You'll be on land here and there's not a lot of wildlife and you go out there and it's just unbelievable how plentiful everything is," Klyver said.

With recent changes in our climate, scientists worry these sightings near Acadia could become less common.

Dr. Sean Todd and College of the Atlantic graduate student, Evan Henerberry, are two whale specialists, studying how climate change affects whales' food source.

They do that by following plankton, microscopic floating organisms.

"When the plankton productivity is down for any one particular year, then our whale observations for all species, humpbacks, fins, minke whales, those sightings go down," Dr. Todd said. "They probably go looking somewhere else, and that makes sense. You come to a place looking for food, expecting food, you don't see it, but you still need food, you're going to go to other places looking for that food."

Henerberry says he's noticing the warmer water is forcing whales toward the north and south poles in search of more favorable habitat.

"There's a lot of physical factors that go into it. It's like picking a place you want to move to in the suburbs. You want to have something that's close to work. You want to have a really nice house. You want to be close to a really good school district," Henerberry said.

As for Klyver and his whale watching tours, his business is based on the whales keeping their home in Maine.

"So right now the whales on the eastern seaboard are affected by a lot things that we do.

There's shipping, there's competition for food, there's pollution, there's all sorts of manmade effects and this is a very urban environment that we created on the ocean now," Klyver said. "So at what point do we reach a threshold where they're stressed and how is climate change going to affect them? Could it push them over them over that threshold if it starts affecting the very foundation of the food chain?

That's what we need to pay attention to."

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