Wind Development to Blame For Whale Deaths? NJ Issues Statement
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has been looking into the rash of recent whale deaths off the coast of New Jersey and other nearby states and they’ve concluded there is no link with ongoing offshore wind-related construction activities.
Tuesday afternoon, the DEP issued a statement indicating since 2016 they have been in consultation with NOAA Fisheries, the lead federal agency responsible for evaluating potential impacts to marine life and habitats from human activities in federal waters.
The statement reads in part: “DEP is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality. While DEP has no reason to conclude that whale mortality is attributable to offshore wind-related activities, DEP will continue to monitor.”
A growing number of whale deaths
At least 13 dead whales have been spotted along the New Jersey and New York coastline since December.
The most recent case was March 2, when a 30-foot humpback whale washed ashore in Ocean County.
After completing a necropsy on the female whale the Marine Mammal Stranding Center said the wounds included a fractured skull, bruising on the head, and cuts on the whale's right side, which were likely caused by a propeller strike.
But whales have been dying along the Jersey Shore and the entire East Coast since 2016. During those years, New Jersey has seen 27 dead whales, including a previous high of five in 2019, while New York has seen 36 dead whales, including a high of nine in 2020.
From Maine to Florida, more than 189 dead whales have washed up ashore since 2016, which marine officials have labeled as a year-long "unusual mortality event."
Only half of these whales were examined and 40% of those had signs of a strike by a vessel or an entanglement.
Calls to stop the offshore wind work
Some environmental groups and lawmakers, including several Jersey Shore mayors, continue to call for offshore wind development to be suspended so an in-depth review of the situation can be carried out. But at least three federal agencies have rejected the idea of there being any link at all, and Gov. Phil Murphy has rejected calls for a moratorium.
In its statement, the DEP notes rising ocean temperatures will continue to adversely impact marine mammals, including whales, their food sources, habitats, and migration patterns.
Whales may be moving into shipping lanes
The statement goes on to say:
Due to these changes in ocean temperature and water chemistry, populations of marine species – including menhaden, a key whale food source—adapt by moving into new areas where conditions are more favorable. Changes that draw prey fish landward similarly increase the risk that these fish and their predators, including whales, may be drawn into conflict with human activities, such as vessel strikes that may increase whale mortality.
The DEP added that The Offshore Wind Research & Monitoring Initiative, a collaborative effort of the DEP and BPU, has authorized $8.5 million to study "safe and ecologically responsible development of offshore wind energy.”