Whales Are Mysteriously Dying in New Jersey. No, It's Not Because of Wind Turbines.

grey whale,eschrichtius robustus, newborn on beach, scammon lagoon
Whales Are Mysteriously Dying near New JerseyGerard Soury - Getty Images
  • Whale and dolphin deaths on the East Coast have local environmental activists and politicians questioning the safety of wind farms.

  • As of now, there's no direct link between the wind farms and the mammal deaths.

  • Questions remain about noise pollution from wind farms and in-sea construction.

In what was once considered a rare event, roughly two dozen whale species have died near New Jersey since the fall of 2022. In addition, nearly two dozen dolphins were found dead near New Jersey's Atlantic shore in "unusual mortality events," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As confusion grows regarding the reason for these marine mammal deaths, people are starting to look for a solid explanation. As a result, local environmental activists and a collective of local mayors and four Republican congressmen have suggested experts take a look at the effects of ocean floor surveying, which is currently underway as part of the preliminary steps toward an eventual offshore wind farm.

"The logical thing to do would be to pause all offshore wind project until we have more data," Michael Testa, a Republican senator from New Jersey, told Bloomberg.

And Cindy Zipf, executive director of local environmental group Clean Ocean Action agrees. "Why should offshore wind get a pass on scrutiny to ensure marine ecosystem protection," she says, according to Euro News, "especially for endangered and protected species?"

But despite the concerns being voiced, the data we do have on these "unusual mortality events" does not seem to point toward work being done in New Jersey's clean energy sector. NOAA Fisheries, under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released a statement regarding the claims:

"There is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales, and no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys."

Prominent environmental group Greenpeace agrees. Arlo Hemphill, Greenpeace USA's project lead on deep sea mining, says "there is no evidence whatsoever connecting" wind turbine and whale deaths. And Greenpeace oceans director John Hocevar told USA Today that the claims were "a cynical disinformation campaign. It doesn’t seem to worry them that it’s not based in any kind of evidence.”

New Jersey's state Department of Environmental Protection also released a statement regarding the accusations, saying the department “is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality.”

Especially considering that marine mammal mortality along the Atlantic coast has actually gone down in recent years—78 whales died in 2017 and 59 died each year in 2018, 2019, and 2020, compared to 31 dying in 2021 and 32 dying in 2022—there is speculation that the current calls for concern are motivated more by politics than by science. Granted, some experts have shared concerns that wind turbines can cause issues for wildlife, but considering that the wind farm in New Jersey has yet to even begin construction, worries regarding the existence of these turbines doesn't apply quite yet.

But for the time being, regardless of motivation, the great wind turbine debate continues. Hopefully, whales and dolphins don't get caught in the crossfire.

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