No Evidence for Wind vs Whale Connection

March 1, 2023

Marine Mammal Commission:

Despite several reports in the media, there is no evidence to link these strandings to offshore wind energy development. For more information on offshore energy development and whales, please see this fact sheet produced by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management:

How does BOEM ensure that whales are protected from offshore wind leasing and development activities?
BOEM requires strict protective measures for when the offshore wind industry conducts activities offshore, including:

  • Exclusion zones around vessels. Operators must establish an “acoustic exclusion zone” for geophysical surveys, so that the zone is clear of any marine mammals and sea turtles for a certain amount of time before acoustic sound sources can be operated.
  • Visual monitoring by trained third-party, independent Protected Species Observers. Protected Species Observers are trained professionals that look for marine mammals so that the possibility of vessel strikes is minimized and to shut down any sound sources if marine mammals are detected within a certain distance.
  • Independent reporting by Protected Species Observers during geophysical surveys. Any interactions with protected species are immediately reported to NOAA Fisheries and BOEM.

Do offshore wind vessels use seismic airguns for their surveys? Deep penetration seismic airgun surveys are not used for offshore wind energy projects. These types of surveys rely on high-energy sound pulses aimed at penetrating deep (thousands of meters) into the seafloor to map deep geological features, such as oil and gas deposits.

New York Times:

Scientists believe the mortality rate may be tied to an unlikely confluence of factors.

The population of humpbacks, hunted legally until 1985, has rebounded, thanks in part to decades of efforts to clean the Atlantic Ocean and heavily polluted tributaries like the Hudson River. As the climate changes and oceans warm, whales and a favored prey, menhaden, are migrating and feeding in new locations, often closer to shore.

Online pandemic buying habits are also fueling a record-setting surge in cargo shipments that last year made ports in New York and New Jersey the nation’s busiest. Much of the merchandise is now toted on far bigger ships — some of which have altered their routes to help alleviate the supply-chain chaos that last year left some store shelves bare.

As a result, more whales appear to have found themselves in the direct path of more ships.

“When the whales are in these channels,” said Paul Sieswerda, executive director of Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research group, “you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no collisions.”

This winter’s quick succession of stranded whales also coincides with work being done in advance of the installation of roughly a dozen large offshore wind farms from Massachusetts to Virginia. Opponents of offshore wind have said that the sonar used by energy companies to map the ocean floor or the noise from seabed rock sampling might be contributing to the whale deaths, though NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission say there is no evidence that this is true.

The humpback whale found on Feb. 13 in Manasquan, N.J., had been spotted about a month earlier feeding in the Raritan Bay, 30 miles from where it washed ashore.

Sheila Dean’s phone at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J., rang that day, as it often does when dead whales turn up. It had been an exceptionally busy few weeks for Ms. Dean, who joined the center in 1978 after years working as a sea lion and dolphin trainer on Atlantic City’s famed Steel Pier.

She and a team of 10 volunteers arrived on the beach the next morning and found a whale known by her markings as NYC0298.

There is no way to X-ray a creature as large as a school bus on a beach, so researchers check for injuries manually, pulling back thick layers of blubber and reaching up to a foot into the body cavity to look for parasites, scarring or bruises, a telltale sign of a vessel strike. The work is strenuous, and the smell is foul.

“Our job is to find out what is killing them,” Ms. Dean said.

On Feb. 17, another volunteer necropsy team was called to the Rockaways, in Queens, to investigate the death of the minke found with deep propeller gashes in its side.

Harry Wallace, chief of the Unkechaug Nation, a Native American tribe from Long Island, was there, too. He performed a burial service after the whale sleuths had finished their work.

After the prayer, a front-end loader pushed the minke into a deep hole in the beach and covered the carcass with sand — the method used to dispose of most beached whales. The animals are buried deep enough to avoid a stench; over time, extra sand is often needed to fill in the divot as the whale decomposes and the grave settles.

“It’s our responsibility to recognize and remind that all living things have a spirit,” Chief Wallace said after the ceremony.

Some of the loudest voices drawing attention to the uptick in whale deaths are longtime opponents of offshore wind energy, who have found in the gruesome images of rotting whale carcasses a new 40-ton mascot.

Several local groups have found common cause with national organizations that have accepted funding from the fossil fuel industry, including the Caesar Rodney Institute, a right-leaning nonprofit that David T. Stevenson helps to lead.

Mr. Stevenson, who opposes offshore wind farms, said Tuesday that he believed greenhouse gases may be causing Earth to warm at a slow rate, but that there is no climate crisis, contradicting settled science. He believes offshore wind energy will be too expensive, and he recently founded the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, which now has chapters in coastal communities in New Jersey and New York.

“If an emotional response is what it takes,” he said about concern for the whales, “I’m not going to turn them down.”

Over the last month, Republican congressmenconservative talk-show hosts and dozens of Jersey Shore mayors have called for an immediate moratorium on wind-energy projects.

“It’s not reasonable that it’s not going to cause real ecological damage,” said Cindy Zipf, director of Clean Ocean Action in New Jersey, which is calling for additional study before offshore wind projects receive final authorization.

But environmental protection organizations have largely supported wind energy. Thirteen such groups in New Jersey have reiterated support for offshore wind, a pillar of President Biden’s ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.

“The organizations that are serious about protecting marine life recognize there are trade-offs,” said Matthew B. Eisenson, whoruns a legal defense initiative at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “Climate change can impact marine life — and we need renewable energy to mitigate climate impacts.”

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management again:

The offshore wind industry typically uses High Resolution Geophysical (HRG) surveys to assist with their siting efforts. HRG surveys use a suite of active sound sources to produce sounds that are reflected off subsea structures to obtain images of the seafloor and shallow geophysical features.

The sound sources used in HRG surveys are much lower in energy than seismic airguns and have other important characteristics that set them apart from seismic airguns. Scientists from BOEM recently co- authored a scientific paper that describes key physical attributes of HRG sources – such as beamwidth, exposure duration, and frequency – that make them unlikely to result in incidental take of marine mammals. The paper and a video describing its findings can be found on BOEM’s website at:

BOEM and NOAA Fisheries rigorously assessed the potential effects of HRG surveys associated with offshore wind development in the Atlantic, and the agencies concluded that these types of surveys are not likely to injure whales or other endangered species.

How do HRG surveys affect marine mammals?

BOEM and the NOAA Fisheries have assessed the potential effects of HRG surveys associated with offshore wind development in the Atlantic. Following a rigorous assessment, NOAA Fisheries and BOEM have concluded that these types of surveys are not likely to injure whales or other endangered species.

BOEM requires developers to use protective measures, such as trained Protected Species Observers, to avoid whales during these survey activities


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