United States

United States

'Too early' to connect whale deaths to offshore wind development

Undersea preparations for three offshore wind farms off the US’s east coast should not be stopped because of a demand for a federal probe into seven whale deaths, according to the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy.

Seven dead whales have washed up on the New Jersey-New York coastline since early December (pic credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
Seven dead whales have washed up on the New Jersey-New York coastline since early December (pic credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

"This is tragic, obviously," Murphy said on Friday. The Democratic politician, who is an ardent backer of offshore wind, referred to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the regulatory agencies that oversees offshore wind development.

"They have said [whale deaths] have been happening at an increased rate since 2016, and that was long before there was any offshore wind activity," Murphy said. "It looks like some of these whales have been hit by vessels."

Indeed, major environmental groups are saying it is too early to connect subsea preparations and the fatalities. However, the Marine Mammal Stranding Centre reported on 16 January that a preliminary investigation found that the most recent whale found dead off New Jersey had likely been struck by a vessel.

The subsea preparations are for wind farms off New Jersey and New York. Ørsted, involved in three projects in the region, declined to comment. Nearly 4GW of projects is being developed in the New York Bight area, off the two states.

"Blaming offshore wind projects for whale mortality without evidence is not only irresponsible but overshadows the very real threats of climate change, plastic pollution and unsustainable fishery management practices to these animals," Anjuli Ramos-Busot, the New Jersey director of environmental organisation the Sierra Club, told local media.

Some local Republican politicians and one US congressman, as well as anti-wind home-owner groups, have called for a federal probe. A coalition of ocean advocacy and fishing groups has also called on President Joe Biden to address the issue.

A post-mortem of the latest whale washed ashore will be conducted by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and some other groups, Associated Press reported.

Since early December, carcasses of five humpback whales and two sperm whales have been found, as well as a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale off North Carolina. Even before that, there was an unusually large number of whale deaths in the region, and no cause has been pinpointed. Nationally, vessel strikes are often to blame for whale deaths.

In New Jersey, Murphy has established a goal of 11GW of offshore wind by 2040, while US President Joe Biden has set a national goal of 30GW of offshore wind by 2030.

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