The Dark Side of Green Energy: NJ’s Whale Death Crisis

The Dark Side of Green Energy: NJ's Whale Death Crisis

( – Most environmental campaigners focus on “green” energy these days, and they don’t talk about old favorites like whales much anymore. Is that because their old and new causes are in deadly conflict? One conservation group thinks so; they’re blaming a new wind power project for a sudden rise in mysterious whale deaths.

Death in the Deep

Like all living things, whales die, and occasionally their bodies wash up on beaches. Typically, the event happens infrequently enough to qualify as rare. Yet, in the last two months, it’s suddenly become much more common on the northeast coast of the US. Since early December, no fewer than 10 dead whales have washed up on New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia shores.

Humpback whales, the species that most commonly turns up dead on the northeast coast, accounted for six of the deaths; the other four were sperm whales, a deep-water species. In total, there have been up to 18 mysterious whale deaths along the East Coast since December 1, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokeswoman.

So what’s causing the whale deaths? That’s where things become controversial. Conservationist groups like Clean Ocean Action, Save Right Whales and Protect Our Coast NJ believe there could be a link to offshore wind farm development. Mainstream environmentalist organizations like Greenpeace deny this theory. Now the two sides are battling over offshore wind power’s future, leading to some unlikely alliances.

Are Wind Farms To Blame?

The pro-whale conservationists have allied themselves with the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson in opposing the offshore wind projects. In late January, 12 New Jersey mayors wrote letters to state and federal officials calling for a halt in offshore development until the NOAA completes its investigations of the whale deaths and explore whether wind farm construction is killing them. Two congressmen, Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) and New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal (D), back the unlikely bedfellows in their request.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D), Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters oppose the coalition asking for the pause. They insist there’s no evidence to connect wind farm development to whale deaths. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also says there’s no proof offshore surveys are harming whales. But is it a possibility?

The answer to that is likely yes. Wind farm developers have continued to carry out sonar surveys of the sea bed off the northeast coast to find the best locations to build wind turbines and other infrastructure. Sonar works by sending out high-energy sound pulses and measuring the echo. Whales rely on sound to communicate, navigate and, in some species (including sperm whales), find and hunt prey. The combination of sonar and whales has led to tragic results before.

In 2000, the US Navy ran an anti-submarine exercise in the Bahamas by using destroyers to carry out sonar searches. Within 36 hours, 14 whales washed up on nearby beaches. The Navy later admitted that sonar can confuse or even injure whales.

In 2008, a mass stranding of dozens of whales in Scotland and Ireland appeared linked to the use of Royal Navy sonars. Last year scientists confirmed that sonar pulses frighten whales and can trigger panic behavior.

President Biden is pushing offshore wind farms heavily; he wants them to produce 30 gigawatts of power by 2030, up from almost zero currently. Companies may need to build hundreds of turbines. So far, only one project has commenced — at South Fork, off the coast of New York, where whales are dying. Before the government authorizes dozens more wind farms, it should know whether they’re safe for ocean wildlife.

~Here’s to Your Prosperity!

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