By Steven Koenig

EAC’s February 11th Sunday Afternoon Series featured Zack Klyver, a Maine-based naturalist who has spent his career studying whales both locally and worldwide. 

Klyver was raised in Eastport and graduated from Shead High School. He began his talk with stories of growing up in Eastport and spending time on the local waters. These firsthand childhood experiences of whale watching, and herring and mackerel fishing, inspired him to pursue an education at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. 

Early in his career in the mid-1980s, Klyver studied right whales while based out of Lubec. His talk featured an in-depth account of the past and current status of right whales. Northern right whales, federally listed as “critically endangered,” summer in the North Atlantic and winter off Georgia and Florida. From a low count in the 1990s below 300 individuals, the population peaked between 2010-2015, but once again is in decline. This whale is also on the IUCN Red List. On a brighter note, five right whales were seen in Passamaquoddy Bay in September and October last year. Several members of the audience commented that they had seen them.

Klyver broadened the discussion of the life histories of various whales and his personal experiences with them in other parts of the world, including sperm and blue whales. His historical account of whale/human interactions included 9th-century Norwegian whaling, 17th century Yankee (USA) whaling, and modern factory whaling. Historical images showed the Passamaquoddy spearing pollock, porpoises and a few whales in 1902. In the 1960s and 1970s, perceptions began to change, noted Klyver. New viewpoints and conservation values led to looking at whales as more than a commodity. Whale watching became a commercial endeavor, and visibility led to awareness. Klyver noted that Passamaquoddy Bay is one of the few areas worldwide where whales can regularly be seen from shore. Several members of the audience spoke of experiences seeing whales from the local breakwater and seawall. 

Whale watching today has guidelines for responsible/respectful actions. Whale watching off Eastport and Head Harbor Passage is noteworthy as several species of whales regularly spend the summer here. One orca, Old Thom, is occasionally seen along with a pod of 150 Atlantic white-sided dolphins.

As a final thought Klyver commented on the history of local concern for the environment, the 1973 effort to stop the Pittston oil refinery and a more recent effort to block a downeast LNG terminal. Building on that local concern, he planted the seed of considering the creation of a marine-protected area in Passamaquoddy Bay. This led to a question-and-answer period with a very engaged audience. It was obvious that Klyver was very connected to Eastport and the waterfront. It has influenced his life and he has had the opportunity to follow a career path the he loves. 
Steven Koenig is a freshwater ecologist who has worked on Atlantic salmon habitat restoration for over two decades in Downeast Maine. He enjoys sailing and gardening, and sings with Quoddy Voices.
(This editor likes to tease him that he is the Quoddy Voices recruitment director!)