Monday, July 13, 2015

Maine: Bar Harbor lobstering and seal watching

     Welcome back to Mount Desert Island in the "Down-East" area of Maine.  If you missed the first article in this series, please Click Here.

     Around the perimeter of this island, the second largest off the coasts of the United States, there are many bays, inlets and harbors. Nestled into the hills and cliffs that fall to meet the tides are tucked numerous towns and villages. Today we are going to look around the most populous one, Bar Harbor.

     Bar Harbor was settled in 1763 in this spot for a couple of reasons.  The harbor is well protected, in fact the town gets its name from a natural break-water (or bar) that is exposed during low tide.  

     The bar runs out to an island, and during low tide tourists like to walk out to it.  Now and then someone who doesn't understand tides parks their car on it.  Soon these become submersibles.  And on occasion folks get stuck on the island that the bar leads out to.  They have to hope one of the fishermen will come out or they have a twelve hour wait. 

     And if you are confused about the annunciation of the town's name, there are plenty of t-shirts for sale that help you with the phonetics.

      The site of the town had the best soil on the island, making it the best spot for agriculture.  Early on this was primarily a fishing and boat building community.  Today its primary industry is tourism.

     A wide variety of shops and restaurants line the streets.  All are small businesses - there are no chain stores here.

     Its the type of place that you can catch a concert on the lawn of the village green.

     The band was quite good, and looked to be made up of people ranging in age from their teens to their seventies.  But a banner said they had been playing since 1898, so I am not sure of the ages.  They must be tired by now.

     There are a number of hotels and cottage courts further up the hill - along the water-front it appears there are numerous condos.

      Most anywhere you look you will see a decorative moose, a puffin or a lobster.  I have yet to see a live moose on the hoof though.

     The harbor is a busy place, shared by commercial fishermen, pleasure boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders.

        On this waterfront you cannot help but notice a group that is very active here - the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

     This is a 26 year old company that allows visitors to experience the waters around the area in a number of ways.  They employ sixty folks in the season, and ten year around.  Many of the great photos used in yesterday's article were only possible because I was out on these boats - much thanks to Bar Harbor Whale Watch's general manager Michael Siemion.

     Among other things, they offer a number of different excursions including whale watching, light house viewing, nature cruises, lobstering and seal watching and photography tours.  They are active and engaged in the local community, and over the next two days we are going to experience several of their day trips.

     Our first trip is the lobster and seal watching trip that takes about three hours.  Lobstering is a big deal here.

     This last year Maine harvested a record haul of 125 million pounds of lobster.  Today we are heading out on the Samantha, a boat built specifically to be an educational craft that both carries passengers and winches up lobster pots.

     We have two tour guides on this trip - first is Angi King-Johnston.

     Angi has worked 25 years as a naturalist in this area - 13 were as a ranger in the park and the rest serving as a guide on these tours.  

     The captain and chief lobster-man is 51 year old Andrew Russo.

     He has six years on the job here, and with a 100 ton master's license, we should be in good stead on this lobstering boat.

     On the way out we pass the Bar Harbor Club.

     On the way out of the harbor we pass the Bar Harbor Club.  This was built in the 1920's for the rich vacationers.  During the prohibition the rounded section was called the "reading room." This was actually a speak-easy where the men would go in the afternoons and evenings for cocktails.

     Professor Marcus Librizzi told a tale about this place.  It seems that this place was out of business for a number of decades, and the local kids would come here to do their partying.  Rumor has it that there was a young girl murdered here, and it is said that there never was a police investigation because her body was dumped out at sea.  It seems that to this day people report smelling a strange perfume - the type that the girl wore all those years ago.

     In fact, the old name for the property that it sits on was "Hell's Half Acre," given it because of all the "dark energy" in that spot.  I walked through it a time or two and didn't smell any strange perfume or feel any malevolent influences, but it seems I am pretty dense when it comes to sensing ghosts.

    Plenty of large estates don the cliffs you pass on the way out of the harbor.

     Soon we are passing the "Porcupine Islands," so named because of how they appear with their covering of spiky spruce trees.

     A number of eagles were hanging out along the way - they seem used to the boats and rather bored with all the gawking.  

     In a short while we reach the lobstering grounds.  Bar Harbor Whale Watch has a license with the State of Maine that allows them to keep lobster traps for educational purposes.  This means they cannot actually harvest any of the lobster they catch.

     Angi is a wealth of information on many aspects of the area.  She explains Maine's regulations that are designed to keep lobstering a viable industry.

     A measurement from the base of the eyeball to the edge of the shell is the primary determinant of whether a lobster can be harvested or not.

     The tool she has in her hand is a universal measuring device.  If the measurement is less than 3 1/4 inches or more than 5 inches the lobster has to be thrown back.

     Also, if it is a female carrying eggs it has to be thrown back.  Further, if a female is carrying eggs you are required to cut a v-notch in the tail for identification.  Once a lobster has this V cut it is safe from fishing as it is a female that has shown that she is a breeder.

     Some say that the regulations on harvesting are what is responsible for the state's record lobster catches the last few years.  Others say it is that the waters are warming and it is the increase of lobster moving up from the south.  And indeed, in states to the south the catches are way down.  

     Traps always have "by catch."  In this trap today is a stone crab - quite a handsome fellow.

     And, of course you cannot pull any type of marine life out of the water without gulls coming after a free meal.  

     This guy wheeled around the boat as though he expected someone to hand him some fish.

     The children have a blast on this trip, as they are allowed to touch all manner of sea life and they get to push the lobsters off the table and back into the sea.

     Then we head out to Egg Island at the mouth of the harbor.

     Here we find two populations of seals.  These are the harbor seals, and they seem perfectly content lying about on the granite shelf.

     This one seems to be trained - no sooner did we arrive than she started waving.

      The trip is very informative as Angi brings up seaweed with all manner of life on it and allows the children to pet a jelly fish she caught.  As we head back toward the pier we see those that lobster for a living at work.

     We spent a day with the Commercial Lobstermen up in Eastport; these seem to be smaller operations.

     They load their lobster into plastic bins, then carry them over the pier to a winch.

     The winch hauls them up to a refrigerated truck operated by the fishery they are selling to.

     Out on the water different lobstermen have built a number of small floating docks.  Here they can temporarily stow gear and hang the bins of lobster in the water while they wait for the fishery to pick them up.

     Atop the pier a fellow has loaded his traps on his truck.

     That looks real stable.

     A note of interest - glaciers were very active in this area.  Every once in a while you can spot a random boulder that matches the chemical composition of rocks many miles away.

     They were carried here  by the ice sheets and then deposited.  It gives an idea of the power of those glaciers.

      I didn't get to pet a jellyfish, but Angi did let me hold a lobster.  

     But she banded the claws up first.  I think she was afraid I would get my nose pinched off.

     And that brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd."  This is a young lady posing for her mother in a plywood lobster cutout on Whale Watch's dock.

     And today's parting shot - spotted in a local tee-shirt shop.

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