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Evidence says offshore wind development is killing lots of whales
By Selected News Articles @ 11:34 PM :: 2326 Views :: Energy, Environment

Evidence says offshore wind development is killing lots of whales

by David Wojick, CFACT, January 23rd, 2023

The recent deaths of seven whales off New Jersey, mostly humpbacks, got a lot of attention. The federal NOAA Fisheries agency is responsible for whales. An outrageous statement by their spokesperson got me to do some research on humpback whale deaths.

The results are appalling. The evidence seems clear that offshore wind development is killing whales by the hundreds.

Here is the statement as reported in the press:

“NOAA said it has been studying what it calls “unusual mortality events” involving 174 humpback whales along the East Coast since January 2016. Agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said that period pre-dates offshore wind preparation activities in the region.” Gaches is NOAA Fisheries press chief.

The “unusual mortality” data is astounding. Basically the humpback death rate roughly tripled starting in 2016 and continued high thereafter. You can see it here: "2016-2023-humpback-whale-unusual-mortality-event-along-Atlantic-coast"

But the claim that this huge jump in mortality predates offshore wind preparation activities is wildly false. In fact it coincides with the large scale onset of these activities. This strong correlation is strong evidence of causation, especially since no other possible cause has appeared.

To begin with, offshore lease sales really geared up 2015-16, with nine big sales off New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Massachusetts. These sales must have generated a lot of activity, likely including potentially damaging sonar. 

(Scroll to bottom for sonar incidental take license dates highlighted in yellow--Editor)

In fact 2016 also saw the beginning of what are called geotechnical and site characterization surveys. These surveys are actually licensed by NOAA Fisheries, under what are called Incidental Harassment Authorizations or IHA’s.

There is some seriously misleading jargon here. IHA’s are incidental to some other activity, in this case offshore wind development. They are not incidental to the whales. In fact the term “harassment” specifically includes injuring the whales. That is called “level A harassment”.

To date NOAA has issued an astounding 46 one-year IHA’s for offshore wind sites. Site characterization typically includes the protracted use of what I call “machine gun sonar”. This shipboard device emits an incredibly loud noise several times a second, often for hours at a time, as the ship slowly maps the sea floor.

Mapping often takes many days to complete. A blaster can log hundreds of miles surveying a 10-by-10 mile site. Each IHA is typically for an entire year.

Here is a list of the IHA’s issued to date and those applied for: "marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-other-energy-activities-renewable"

There are lots of ways this sonar blasting might cause whales to die. Simply fleeing the incredible noise could cause ship strikes or fish gear entanglements, the two leading causes of whale deaths. Of the whales could be deafened, increasing their chances of being struck by a ship later on. Direct bleeding injury, like getting their ears damaged, is another known risk, possibly leading to death from infection. So there can be a big time difference between blasting and death.

Note also that these deaths need not be in the immediate vicinity of the sonar blasting, so spatial correlation is unlikely. Humpbacks in particular are prodigious travelers. One group was tracked traveling 3,000 miles in just 28 days, over 100 miles a day on average. Another group routinely migrates 5,000 miles. Both are winter-summer migrations which can happen twice a year.

Thus a sonar blasting, site characterization in one place could easily lead to multiple whale deaths hundreds of miles away. If one of these blasters suddenly goes off near a group of whales they might go off in different directions, then slowly die.

The point is that the huge 2016 jump in annual humpback mortality coincides with the huge jump in NOAA Incidental Harassment Authorizations. It is that simple and surely NOAA Fisheries knows this.

Nor is this just about humpbacks. Some of the dead whales off New Jersey are endangered sperm whales. And of course there are the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, on the verge of extinction.

Even worse, the IHA’s are about to make a much bigger jump. There are eleven pending IHA applications and eight of these are for actually constructing 8 different monster wind “farms”.

Driving the hundreds of enormous monopiles that hold up the turbine towers and blades will be far louder than the sonic blasters approved to date, especially with eight sites going at once. These construction sites range from Virginia to Massachusetts, with a concentration off New Jersey and New York.

For more on this noise see my "threat-to-endangered-whales-gets-louder"

Clearly we need a moratorium on new Incidental Harassment Authorizations until the safety of the whales and other marine species can be assured. Hundreds of whales may have already been killed by offshore wind activities. The evidence is right there.

---30---

Background:

NOAA: Incidental Take Authorizations for Other Energy Activities (Renewable/LNG)  (Scroll to bottom for earliest dates)

Applicant Activity Authorization Type Effective Dates
Ørsted Wind Power North America, LLC Renewal of Site Characterization Survey off of New York to Massachusetts IHA 3/3/2022 - 9/24/2022
Vineyard Wind 1 Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts and Rhode Island IHA 7/21/2021 - 7/20/2022
Mayflower Wind Energy LLC Modification to Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts IHA 7/1/2021 - 6/30/2022
Vineyard Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York IHA 7/15/2021 - 6/20/2022
Garden State Offshore Energy, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Delaware and New Jersey IHA 6/11/2021 - 6/10/2022
Ocean Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of New Jersey IHA 5/10/2021 - 5/9/2022
Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC Renewal of Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of New Jersey and New York IHA 4/20/2021- 4/19/2022
Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Delaware IHA 4/5/2021- 4/4/2022
Annova LNG Common Infrastructure LNG Terminal Construction in the Brownsville Ship Channel in Cameron County, Texas IHA 3/1/2021 - 2/28/2022
Kitty Hawk Wind, LLC  Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of North Carolina and Virginia IHA 7/23/2021 -10/31/2021
Orsted Wind Power North America Site Characterization off of Massachusetts to New York IHA 9/25/2020 - 9/24/2021
Equinor Wind, LLC Site Characterization off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey IHA 9/20/2020 - 9/19/2021
Jordan Cove Energy Project LP Jordan Cove Project, Coos Bay, OR IHA 10/1/2020 - 9/30/ 2021
Dominion Energy Virginia Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Coastal Virginia (2021) IHA 4/12/2021 -  8/27/2021
Mayflower Wind Energy, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts IHA 7/23/2020 - 7/22/2021
Rio Grande LNG LLC LNG Terminal Construction in the Brownsville Ship Channel in Cameron County, Texas IHA 7/1/2020 - 6/30/2021
Vineyard Wind, LLC Reissuance of Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York IHA 6/21/2020 - 6/20/2021
Dominion Energy Virginia Offshore Wind Construction Activities off of Virginia IHA 5/15/2020 - 5/14/2021
Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of New Jersey and New York IHA 4/20/2020 - 4/19/2021
Vineyard Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York IHA 6/1/2020- 5/31/2021
Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of Delaware and Maryland IHA 11/25/2019- 11/24/2020
Ørsted Wind Power LLC Site Characterization Surveys for Renewable Energy off the Coast of New England in the Areas of OCS-A 0486, OCS-A 0487, and OCS-A 0500 IHA 9/26/2019 - 9/25/2020
Avangrid Renewables LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys for Renewable Energy off the Coast of North Carolina in the area of OCS-A508 IHA 6/1/2019 - 5/31/2020
Equinor Wind US LLC Renewal of Wind Site Characterization Surveys off of New York  IHA 4/25/2019 - 4/24/2020
Dominion Energy Virginia Unexploded Ordnance Surveys off Virginia for Site Characterization of the OCS-A 0497 Lease Area for Renewable Energy Development IHA 7/31/2018 - 7/30/2019
Bay State Wind LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys off the Coast of Massachusetts IHA 7/24/2018 - 7/23/2019
Deepwater Wind New England LLC Site Characterization Surveys off the Coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts IHA  6/13/2018 - 6/12/2019
Garden State Offshore Energy, LLC Geophysical Survey for Skipjack Wind off of Delaware  IHA 5/15/2018- 5/14/2019
Statoil Wind U.S. LLC Wind Site Characterization Surveys off of New York IHA 4/24/2018- 4/23/2019
Deepwater Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys, off of New York  IHA 6/16/2017 - 6/15/2018
Ocean Wind, LLC Marine Site Characterization Surveys, off of New Jersey IHA 6/8/2017- 6/7/2018
Port Dolphin Deepwater Port LNG Construction and Operation near Tampa Bay, FL  LOA 6/01/2013 - 5/31/2018
Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge, L.P. and Algonquin Gas Transmission, L.L.C.  Port and Algonquin Pipeline Operation, Maintenance and Repair in Massachusetts Bay (2016-2017) IHA 12/23/2016-12/22/2017
Neptune LNG, LLC Decommissioning of Neptune Deepwater Port, MA (2016-2017) IHA 10/07/2016-10/06/2017
DONG Energy Massachusetts LLC Geophysical and Geotechnical Surveys Offshore Massachusetts (2016-2017) IHA 8/13/2016-8/12/2017
Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm Cable Installation Off Block Island, RI (2016-2017) IHA 5/31/2016-5/30/2017
Neptune LNG, LLC Liquefied Natural Gas Facility Operation and Maintenance off Massachusetts (2011-2016) LOA 07/11/2011-
7/10/2016
ExxonMobil Alaska LNG LLC (AK LNG) Geophysical and Geotechnical Program in Cook Inlet, AK (2015) IHA 8/14/2015-8/13/2016
Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge, L.P. and Algonquin Gas Transmission, L.L.C.  LNG Port Operations and Maintenance and Repair in Massachusetts Bay (2015-16) IHA 12/23/2015-12/22/2016
Northeast Gateway Energy Bridge, L.P. and Algonquin Gas Transmission, L.L.C.  LNG Port Operations and Maintenance/ Repair in Massachusetts Bay, MA IHA 12/22/2014-
12/21/2015
Deepwater Wind Block Island, LLC Block Island Wind Farm Construction off Rhode Island IHA 10/31/2014-
10/30/2015
Deepwater Wind Block Island Transmission, LLC Block Island Transmission System (BITS) Construction off Rhode Island IHA 11/01/2014-
10/31/2015
Cape Wind Associates High Resolution Geophysical Survey in Nantucket Sound, MA IHA 04/25/2014-
4/24/2015
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