Dead whales are washing up on the East Coast – and a former Greenpeace chief believes offshore wind turbines may be to blame.
Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace and its ex-president in Canada, claims the acoustic systems used by vessels surveying the ocean floor for drilling are harming whales’ sense of hearing – risking their crucial ability to navigate and leading to more dead whales washing up onshore.
Four minke whale corpses were discovered in New York and New England between Thursday and Sunday, one of them on Friday in Moriches Bay, close to Westhampton, Long Island.
At least 36 “large” whales have washed up along the East Coast since December 1, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including 16 humpbacks thus far in 2023, seven of them found along the New Jersey shore.
With offshore wind turbines up to 900-feet tall having been given the go-ahead off both New York and New Jersey, as part of moves to increase renewable energy production, Republican lawmakers in New Jersey last week proposed a 60-day moratorium on wind farm development to investigate any possible link to the rash of carcasses.
Moore voiced support for the Republicans’ concern, saying that survey work – which uses acoustic pulses to scan the seabed ahead of drilling for the turbines – is risky for whales.
“The effect of the high-intensity acoustic pulses is unknown, and the excavations are muddying waters for what will be years on end,” Moore said. “It is not unreasonable to say there is no possibility of a causal relationship.”
Whales and other endangered species impacted by the acoustic pulses could be guided to their demise, with possible strandings in shallow water, striking vessels or getting entangled in fishing gear, Moore said.
New Jersey state Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Boonton, noted that the feds started tracking the spate of dead humpbacks along the East Coast since 2016 – the same year Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind Farm went operational.
“There’s too much of a coincidence here to ignore, and we continue to rapidly push forward,” Bucco said. “This activity off our coast is only going to dramatically increase as they begin pile-driving and installing these wind turbines. So if this is having an effect on our marine mammals now, it could be catastrophic when that work begins.”
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has made offshore wind a top priority during his administration, setting a goal in late 2019 for New Jersey to generate 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035.
NOAA and Gov. Murphy both rejected any link between sound waves from marine sonars and other surveying equipment to profile the seabed and the sharp uptick in whale mortalities.
A spokesman for Murphy said the two-term Democrat “very seriously” evaluates any potential threat to New Jersey’s marine ecosystems while basing policy decisions on scientific evidence, and have been coordinating with NOAA.
Greenpeace USA senior oceans campaigner Arlo Hemphill said the number of dead whales was “cause for alarm” but added: “At this time, due to the lack of evidence suggesting harm from offshore wind development, Greenpeace’s position remains that the best way to protect whales is to create ocean sanctuaries, eliminate single-use plastics at the source, and stop our dependency on oil and gas.”
Capt. Paul Eidman, who runs fishing and whale-watching charters out of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and supports offshore wind power, said whale deaths are most likely linked to increased shipping activity and a recent resurgence in population of Atlantic menhaden, known to fishermen as bunkers.
The debate over the potential link between offshore wind turbines and whale deaths is intensifying as the U.S. looks to increase the number of offshore wind turbines in the coming years. With so much at stake, it’s essential that we get to the bottom of this issue and ensure that the health of our marine ecosystems is not compromised.