As deceased whales are washing ashore, federal agencies are rejecting the possibility that offshore wind energy could be to blame, despite warnings from the National Ocean Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
The Marine Mammal Commission became the third federal agency to reject any link to offshore wind energy projects, along with NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
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Conservationists are warning that these deaths could have been avoided had the White House heeded an earlier warning from NOAA.
In May 2022, a top NOAA scientist, Sean Hayes, warned of the effects that offshore wind could have on whales, specifically right whales.
Hayes, NOAA’s chief of protected species, wrote the memo addressed to a dozen scientists at NOAA and to the BOEM's lead biologist Brian Hooker, saying in part, that "the development of offshore wind poses risks to these species [whales]" and that "these risks occur at varying stages, including construction and development, and include increased noise, vessel traffic, habitat modifications, water withdrawals associated with certain substations."
It also states that the impacts of the operating wind turbines, once they are up and running, "cannot be mitigated for the 30-year lifespan of the project, unless they are decommissioned." The letter, which went to more than a dozen scientists at the two agencies, was largely ignored, and now dead whales are washing up in historic numbers.
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Early Wednesday, a dead humpback whale was spotted off the South Jersey coast in Seaside Park, making it the second in the tri-state area this week. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center confirms to FOX Business that a necropsy is expected to be performed.
The same day, another whale washed up onto a jetty in Breezy Point, New York.
Since the beginning of December, there have been 25 reported large whale strandings, with 14 reported dead or stranded large whales in New York and New Jersey, according to NOAA. A majority of the mortalities have been humpback whales.
"It's shocking that a federal agency like BOEM would hear this information when we have it in its records, not make that information public and allow projects to move forward when we're facing the potential extinction of a whale," Lisa Linowes, Executive Director of WindAction Group told FOX Business.
The recent spate of deaths along the East Coast has been raising concern among local officials and activists who point to the rapid development of offshore wind projects as disrupting whale populations.
Mayors, lawmakers and conservation groups are calling on the federal and state governments to pass a moratorium into these offshore wind projects until an investigation is conducted on the growing number of whale deaths.
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Some scientists argue the fatality rate could be the result of climate change warming the ocean and driving whales to new locations, in many cases closer to shore. Other research groups say that online pandemic buying habits are to blame, increasing the number of cargo shipments in the ports of New York and New Jersey.
While post-mortem evaluations show ship strikes as the cause of many deaths, activists say the habitat displacement is what is leading to higher chances of ship strikes.
Site surveys and the construction itself are pushing whales out of areas that would normally be safe, and into shipping lanes, according to WindAction Group’s Linowes. In some offshore wind lease areas, there are increases in vessel activity with cargo boats, tankers and large ships.
"How is it possible that the administration can ignore their own scientists and look the other way re the endangered right whale when it’s a foreign government owned offshore wind company, but have no problem using that same right whale as the guise to close down US commercial fisheries and drive coastal fishing communities to bankruptcy?" Bonnie Brady, executive director at Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said to FOX Business. "Aren’t they supposed to be protecting American interests first?"