February 19, 2023
By Carly Wanna, Jennifer A Dlouhy and Josh SaulBloomberg
Dead whales keep washing up on the U.S. Atlantic coast. A coalition of wind opponents, environmentalists and conservatives are blaming offshore wind.
The offshore wind industry has a 40-ton problem on its hands.
Since early December, close to two dozen large whales have washed up on or near beaches on the U.S. Atlantic coast, and about a third of the so-called strandings have occurred on the shores of New Jersey. It’s unclear what exactly is fueling the deaths, but an unlikely coalition of wind opponents, local environmental groups and conservative talk show hosts have zeroed in on offshore wind as the culprit. They argue that projects in development are disrupting marine life and contributing to the unusually high number of deceased whales.
Government officials and the companies behind those wind projects remain firm: There is no evidence linking the whale mortalities to ongoing offshore wind development. They say New Jersey’s offshore wind ambitions are continuing as planned.
“Groups opposed to clean energy development are spreading misinformation,” said JC Sandberg, chief advocacy officer at American Clean Power Association, an industry organization. “They’ve seized on an opportunity to try and stop clean energy deployment along the East Coast.”
In January, a group of conservation organizations, led by Clean Ocean Action, and a coalition of a dozen New Jersey mayors penned two separate letters calling on Washington officials to halt offshore development activities near the state. In the weeks since, the issue has gained national attention. Climate-conscious news outlets are fact-checking the campaigns against offshore wind, while conservative talk show hosts such as Tucker Carlson claim outright that wind projects are killing whales. Some of those blaming offshore wind also have ties to conservative groups that have long opposed clean energy.
For all the finger-pointing, everyone does agree that a lot of whales are dying. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says an “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales along the Atlantic coast has been ongoing since 2016, well before the start of any significant offshore wind development there. Of the approximately 180 whale strandings NOAA has tracked since then, close to half have been examined. Roughly 40% showed evidence of a ship strike or entanglement connected to the cause of death.
None of those whale deaths have been linked directly to offshore wind development, but some marine scientists and wind-power foes argue that the lack of a proven connection doesn’t rule out the existence of one. Critics worry that the activities associated with offshore wind development, such as the driving of supports into the sea floor, can harm marine life.
Sean Hayes, chief of the protected species branch at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, warned ocean energy regulators last year that “additional noise, vessel traffic and habitat modifications due to offshore wind development will likely cause added stress” to whales and “result in additional population consequences” to the species.
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