A New Demand to Halt NJ Offshore Wind, Investigate Whale Deaths
With ongoing concerns about the recent spike in whale and dolphin deaths along the New Jersey coast, a group of State Senate Republicans held their own live-streamed independent hearing that featured testimony from experts.
One of those speaking at the hearing, marine conservation biologist Trisha DeVoe, said the whale death total was rising dramatically during the winter, when there were fewer ships and fewer whales in the ocean off the Jersey coast.
She said companies doing windfarm survey work out in the Atlantic have been given what is called incidental harassment authorizations, which are essentially permits to harass marine mammals that get in their way.
“So we have to ask is it possible that the extent of the disturbance has been under-estimated? Is it possible that the harassment, while not a direct cause of death, could be a secondary cause of death for these whales?” she said.
She said the cause of death for most whales that have washed ashore has been vessel strikes but “is it possible that the noise from the offshore wind vessels can cause the whales to become disoriented and therefore unable to avoid vessels, or could the activity frighten the whales and cause them to flee, putting them in harm's way.”
DeVoe said when these questions are raised, “the response is always there is no evidence linking offshore wind activities to the whale deaths, but you cannot find evidence if you don’t look for it.”
Studies are vital
She stressed we need to immediately begin studies to determine the impact of the offshore survey work on whales and other marine life.
“The impact of offshore wind activities cannot be assessed if baseline data is not collected prior to the start of these activities," she said.
“A 600% increase in whale strandings cannot be ignored. There are many unanswered questions and we need to demand an immediate, independent and thorough investigation into what is causing these deaths.”
A plea to pause offshore wind work
During the hearing, state Sens. Tony Bucco, R-Morris, Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic, Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, and Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, suggested that ongoing survey work for the state’s massive offshore windfarm should be paused until it can be determined if there is any correlation with the mammal deaths.
At least 41 whales and dolphins have died and washed ashore over the past five months, a much higher total than has ever been recorded in the same time period, and some environmental groups and marine experts believe this may be happening because of offshore wind sonar survey activity in the ocean off the Jersey coastline.
A complete rejection
Three federal agencies and Gov. Phil Murphy have rejected that suggestion, and several environmental groups have banded together to form the New Jersey Wind Works Coalition, insisting questions about the wind farm work are part of an anti-environment campaign bankrolled by major oil corporations.
DeVoe said that whales are an important part of the ocean ecosystem and keeping them safe is an important part of the fight against global warming because during their lifespan each whale takes, on average, 33 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Others testifying during the hearing included Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action, Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra, Craig Rucker, the president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and Bob Stern, a former Department of Energy official and the current president of Save LBI.
Before the hearing, the New Jersey Wind Works Coalition issued a statement, stating in part:
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that New Jersey Senate Republicans are continuing to spread lies about offshore wind with the hopes of delaying progress and continuing our dependence on fossil fuels. The anti-wind campaign is anti-environment and anti-wildlife. Developing New Jersey’s offshore wind industry will create union jobs, generate economic prosperity in communities across our state, and is essential to fighting climate change, which is the number one threat facing marine life.”