As aggressive excavation and submarine construction of over 1,500 offshore wind-farm turbines continues along the east coast of the United States, whales are likewise stranding, beaching and dying at an alarming and perplexing rate.
Almost 200 whales have been found dead since 2016, when the wind-turbine rush began, representing a fourfold annual increase over past years.
Seven dead whales have been discovered in New Jersey and New York in the past two months. In southeastern Virginia, in one recent week alone, three whales were found dead, just miles from two operational wind farms. Dying species include humpback whales and the endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which fewer than 350 are known to remain.
Citing lack of direct scientific evidence, the federal government and wind-farm advocates in the media say that there is no connection between the dramatic increases in whale deaths and the new wind farm projects they accompany. One ABC News headline declared, “Wind Farms not to Blame for East Coast Whale Deaths.” NOAA Deputy Chief Benjamin Laws affirms, “There are no known connections between any offshore wind activities and any whale strandings.”
Concerned citizens and local officials say otherwise.
“The connection is clear,” one coastal resident told WND. “We have never seen anything like this before, and it’s happening next to the wind farm activities, but because they’re wind farms, nobody cares about the whales. If you speak out for the whales, it’s as if you’re anti-environment.”
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Ironically, it may have become politically dangerous to side with the whales.
Greenpeace, perhaps the nation’s most powerful environmental advocacy group, has sided not only with the $40 billion wind-farm industry, but against detractors. John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s Oceans Director, says those sounding the alarm are part of a “cynical disinformation campaign.” One recent article in USA Today refers to anti-wind-farm “groups and politicians” who “appear to be using whales as pawns.”
Still, a number of stalwart environmental and animal experts are calling for a moratorium on wind-farm construction and for further study. In a conversation with this writer, Patrick Moore, co-founder and former member of Greenpeace, was unequivocal:
“The development of these wind farms is interfering massively with the actual, known habitat of these creatures. The turbines are inside known migratory pathways. The effect of the high-intensity acoustic pulses is unknown and the excavations are muddying waters for what will be years on end. It is not reasonable to say there is no possibility of a causal relationship here.”
Scientists are still learning about the sound-producing, hearing and echolocation capabilities of whales. Echolocation can be described as “biological SONAR,” the means by which many kinds of bats, for instance, navigate and find prey.
It is widely believed that plankton-combing baleen whales or “Mysticetes” such as the North Atlantic right whale and humpback whale, do not echolocate. This writer’s father, submarine acoustics and microwave systems expert Dr. Sam Raff, participated in years of studies on the effects of undersea acoustic wave propagation on whales. The goal of this work was to attempt to determine whether naval communications and antisubmarine warfare-related transmissions could adversely affect whale communication, navigation and migration. The studies were largely inconclusive but led the United States Navy to undertake certain precautionary measures. Whales are mysterious creatures and the study of whale behavior remains exceptionally challenging.
The “precautionary principle,” a philosophical approach generally touted by environmentalists, does not appear to apply in the case of wind farms, whose construction and deployment, in the words of Clean Ocean Action, is “staggering.” The precautionary principle dictates extreme caution in any case in which the amount of environmental harm done by new development is not fully understood. But the latest government figures show at least 2.4 million acres and 3,400 turbines slated for construction in northeast waters. “Paving the ocean with offshore wind at the current scale, pace, and magnitude is reckless,” says Clean Ocean Action, “and will have dire consequences.”
Moore suggests Greenpeace, the organization he co-founded, is making a critical mistake.
“Greenpeace has betrayed the mission of its founders. They are protecting machinery instead of wild whales. When you look at the numbers, power output and actual cost effectiveness, there’s a phoniness about the wind farms and a huge amount of environmental degradation. As far as the turbines … May they rust in place.”
Patrick Moore will serve as headline speaker for this weekend’s blockbuster Heartland climate conference in Orlando, Florida.
This writer is host and co-producer of PBS’ multiple Emmy-Award® winning
conservation documentary, GREAT WHITE SHARK (The Great White Shift,) now
in worldwide distribution. A U.S. version may be watched, for free, on
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