ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — Mount Desert Island residents wondering why their homes and villages are being buzzed repeatedly after dark by a low-flying seaplane for the past week or so now have an answer. It’s all about the bats.
According to park resource specialist Bruce Connery, the flights are being conducted by scientists studying seasonal bat migrations.
“The preferred method of tracking is using research and park staff equipped with receivers from roads and trails,” Connery said Tuesday. “However, an alternative approach is to use receiver-equipped aircraft that can locate marked bats that are difficult to locate in rocky and mountainous terrain,” he added. Tracking is done both during the day and at night.
As part of the study, nets are being strung along some sections of carriage roads at night to catch bats so they can be banded and studied up close. Last year, the carriage road nets managed to snag a few early evening bicycle riders as well. “This year, we put up cones and flashing lights,” Connery explained.
He continued that the flights are a standard method of survey, although they are not often done over populated areas. “Mostly they are used in places over Forest Service land,” he said. “We probably should have let folks know what we are up to,” he said.
Over the holiday weekend, social media sites hosted long discussions from area residents wondering what the seaplane was doing. Residents in Bass Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Bar Harbor reported the loud noise of the plane’s powerful engine above their homes multiple times during a single evening.
Several residents bemoaned the intrusion as an unwelcome addition to the daily drone of sightseeing flights, ultra-light paragliders and small acrobatic planes flown over the island just for fun.
“I’m not whiny, … but that plane just went over my house four times in the last 10 minutes … no wait, another time, now make it five … tired of the noise,” posted Lisa Willey of Southwest Harbor on Facebook on Monday night. That comment was among more than three dozen that evening alone.
Most commenters, some of whom worried the flights were a new sightseeing operation, were relieved and understanding upon finding out the flights have a scientific purpose.
Researchers are specifically looking at populations of the northern long-eared bat that have been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a type of fungus. Populations are estimated to be only 20 percent of what was found just two years ago.
Depending on how many bats the flights detect, the study could continue for another four weeks, Connery said. All flights are conducted above minimum altitudes for such flights as established by the Federal Aviation Administration.