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Editorial

Associated Press spreads disinformation on wind industry role in whale deaths

Lisa Linowes|January 2, 2024
MassachusettsRhode IslandUSAOffshore WindWhales

AP claimed, “there’s no evidence that limited wind farm construction on the Atlantic Coast has directly resulted in any whale deaths” [emphasis added] and that ”rumors” about whale deaths related to wind energy started in 2016, long before “major offshore wind farm construction that began this year.” Both claims appear to be deliberately misleading. In other words, the AP reporters wrote the statements as though they were aware that the evidence of wind industry killing whales is much stronger than the article suggests.


Associated Press claims that, “Contrary to politicians’ claims, offshore wind farms don’t kill whales. Here’s what to know.”

The story notes that 83 whales have been found dead since December 2022 ( 86 dead since Christmas).

As background, before 2016, humpback whale deaths from Virginia to Maine averaged just eight whales per year. Of the eight, just 1.4 deaths could be attributed to vessel strikes. 

Beginning in 2016, humpback whale deaths for the same area averaged close to 25 animals per year with a peak of 35 deaths in 2023. 

AP claimed, “there’s no evidence that limited wind farm construction on the Atlantic Coast has directly resulted in any whale deaths” [emphasis added] and that ”rumors” about whale deaths related to wind energy started in 2016, long before “major offshore wind farm construction that began this year.” 

Both claims appear to be deliberately misleading. In other words, the AP reporters wrote the statements as though they were aware that the evidence of wind industry killing whales is much stronger than the article suggests.

The AP reporters strictly limited the discussion to wind farm construction happening this year. What’s more, they only looked at deaths “directly resulting” from the construction.

In that way, they narrowly frame the claims in ways that appear intended to mislead readers about the overwhelming evidence that wind industry activities are killing whales.

For example, a detailed investigation by the Save Right Whales Coalition found that the pattern of whale deaths in the Atlantic positively correlates with the increase in preconstruction offshore wind activities in lands leased for wind development. 

And in states where offshore wind activity was significant since 2016, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, the increase in whale mortality was substantially higher. 

Vessel track data show whale deaths occurring within the same timeframe and location as offshore wind sonar surveys for mapping the seabed. As the amount of offshore wind activity increased within an area, so did whale deaths. 

Wind turbine construction off the coasts of Massachusetts (Vineyard Wind 1) and Rhode Island (Southfork Wind) only began in May/June 2023. It’s too early to know the impact of this work. 

AP never addresses the following questions:

●    Does a whale have to be struck by a project-related vessel to count as a direct kill? 

●    What if a whale, temporarily deafened by pile-driving noise (which is allowed under NOAA Fisheries permits), wanders into a shipping lane and is struck by a vessel? 

NOAA Fisheries reports that nineteen whales died off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in 2023 but is silent on the causes of death except to deny that wind energy development played any role. 

The agency  has offered no information for why so many whales, particularly humpback, minke, and North Atlantic right whales, are dying. The only thing NOAA Fisheries (and AP) appear to be certain of is that the whale deaths are separate and unrelated to offshore wind. 

But NOAA Fisheries data show that seven critically endangered North Atlantic right whales were found dead on or near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts between August 2017 and August 2018. Aggregate vessel tracks for the same period show intensive offshore wind sonar work within the wind lease area immediately south of the island. 

Deadly risks could also extend to operational facilities. Since the Block Island wind project started construction in 2016, five verified humpback whale deaths have been observed either on or near Block Island in the immediate vicinity of the turbines. These include one death in 2016, two in 2017, a fourth in 2022 and fifth in 2023. NOAA Fisheries data do not show humpback whales found dead anywhere on Block Island prior to 2016. 

Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island are not isolated cases. Rather, these locations are representative of a much larger pattern occurring in the northeast where the highest concentration of offshore wind work is happening.

Marine mammals are being displaced from biologically important habitats. They are experiencing increased vessel activity in areas that historically have had very little traffic.  Now the sonar is dangerously ensonifying (filling with sound) these habitats that were generally free of loud man-made noise. 

Ironically, the AP reporters make the case that offshore wind construction will benefit the whales by mitigating the effects of climate change. They use the example of how warming waters have caused right whales to follow food resources into less protected ocean areas. 

Presumably, more offshore wind energy will lead to less fossil fuel, cooler oceans, and safer whales. 

But what’s left unsaid is that the Atlantic Ocean south of New England was one of the safe areas for right whales until BOEM permitted offshore wind development. 

This area, which is now under construction, is occupied year-round by right whales and recognized by NOAA Fisheries as the only remaining winter foraging habitat for the species left on earth. BOEM approved the Vineyard Wind 1 and Southfork wind projects knowing its biological significance to the whale. But it doesn’t stop there. Vineyard Wind and Southfork Wind are only the first of many projects in varying stages of development spanning two-million acres from North Carolina to Massachusetts with more leases under consideration. 

The AP story mentions steps being taken by wind developers to reduce the impact of construction noise on marine mammals, but they miss the much larger point. The federal agencies do not know how the construction, operation, and maintenance of these facilities will impact whales, especially the right whale. NOAA Fisheries’ draft strategy released October 2022 assumes we will be able to identify and develop methods to avoid, minimize and mitigate harms to right whales in a timely manner. 

Any plan that investigates the risks after projects are placed in service is tantamount to an irreversible experiment that will have deadly consequences. Focus on construction noise does not address the larger questions of habitat destruction, prey reduction, and whale displacement from important winter foraging areas. Given the dire, and declining condition of the right whale, the species does not have sufficient buffer to survive such an experiment. A single take will jeopardize the species’ very existence. 

No reading of the federal Endangered Species Act or Marine Mammals Protection Act supports such an outcome. 


Source:https://saverightwhales.org/m…

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