An Assembly Committee last week held a hearing to look for the answer if activities associated with offshore wind farms are causing a rise in whale and dolphin deaths in the last year.
Chaired by Assemblyman Christopher Tully (D-38), the hearing on May 18 was billed as “a science-based hearing on marine mammal deaths” and comes after a Republican State Senate virtual forum that heard testimony from those who believe there is a possible link to the deaths and offshore wind survey work that is underway off the New Jersey coast among other misgiving about the burgeoning offshore wind industry in the Garden State.
The Assembly committee heard testimony from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and several scientific community experts that suggested the increased death of whales and dolphins along the Jersey Shore had more to do with climate change and not any work being done by energy companies looking to build offshore wind farms off the coast.
Climate Change the Culprit
LaTourette was forceful during his testimony that the deaths were unrelated to the current work being done, connecting the death to the oceans getting warmer that has resulted in changing migration patterns that had been documented over a longer period of time then the recent work for offshore wind farms.
“This landward migration is bringing whales into direct conflict with a shipping super-highway that resides just off our coast,” said LaTourette. “The culprit is a changing environment, and our inabilities societally to get it under control.”
More Investigation Needed
“We are seeing mortality of whales in many instances, because of ship strikes,” LaTourette.
LaTourette and other who testified conceded that additional observation and study is needed to truly understand how climate change, whale and prey-fish migration patterns and shipping traffic are inter-connected.
Critics have cited the current surveying of the ocean floor being done that relies on sonar as contributing to the death. But an expert on how acoustic waves impact cast doubt on that. Douglas Nowacek, a professor at the Duke University Marine Lab, said certain types of lower frequency sounds being used in the offshore wind survey work could disorient whales.
But Nowacek quickly added there were many factors that would have to come together to cause that were unlikely— the mammals would have to be within 141 meters of the equipment being used and that the types of acoustic sound waves used in gas and oil exploration are much louder and more intense.
LaTourette said NJDEP is working with federal partners to study, monitor and better understand what is happening in the ocean, and infrastructure development, including pipelines, communication cables and offshore wind projects are overseen.
The NJDEP commish has previously noted that the state agency has partnered with NOAA Fisheries to monitor an unusual humpback whale mortality event that has been affecting Atlantic coast states since January 2016. As of Memorial Day weekend, seven whales and 45 dolphins had been reported as washing ashore at Jersey Shore beaches this year.
Additionally, LaTourette was forceful in his pushback for those who have claimed it is the work currently being done that is causing the rise in deaths.
“We shouldn’t be distracted by misinformation,” LaTourette said at the hearing. “We should call out disinformation every single time we see it. Because it distracts from the critical work of protecting our constituents from a worsening climate experience.”
The hearing and LaTourette’s statement did little to mollify the concerns of Republicans, specifically State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) who had helmed the GOP forum on May 3. Bucco criticized the Democrats’ hearing as a one-sided conversation devoid of critical perspectives.
“After listening to the panel of witnesses, it was obvious that Democrats stacked the deck in favor of protecting wind farms over whales,” said Bucco. “There was not a single voice that was critical of any aspect of offshore wind development or its impact on marine mammals. It’s unfortunate that the opposing viewpoints were not even considered. What could have been an open, healthy debate turned into a one-sided conversation.”
Bucco said that while the Republican hearing invited stakeholders from both sides of the issue to have an open and transparent discussion, “it seems that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle were not interested in doing that with their hearing today.
The GOP panel heard from activists and Jersey Shore lawmakers who are against offshore wind farms for a number of reasons, mostly economical and environmental concerns. At the end of the forum, Republicans called for a moratorium on the ocean work until issues they have raised are resolved.
“Protecting our environment and preventing further damage to our marine wildlife should not be a partisan issue,” said Bucco. “Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the full story to guide smart policy decisions when you’re silencing half the voices.”
Well, STOP the activity for one year. THAT should clarify the situation. It’s an AWFULLY BIG COINCIDENCE though.
Money money money. That’s what it’s all about. Pollute the ocean with this crap, part of the surveillance system. This is a disgrace when you hear about what is being installed into the ocean. Big giant electopolutting components. Foreign companies are big in this stuff,and global warming is the excuse for it.
Ever notice how global warming (and now Covid) are the excuses for everything? The problem is, there hasn’t been any warming recorded for the last 12 years running, according to the scientists. Next they’ll tell us that the 12-year pause in warming is what’s killing the whales…
Its about stopping clean energy , whales are dying from the ships hitting them the condition of our oceans and climate change.
what world are you living in James or better yet where are you getting your misinformation from. We have had record breaking heat for a decade
I have no idea where people get the idea that wind farms pollute more than coal mines and agricultural runoff. As for any so-called “pause” in global warming: that’s laughable. Try looking at some data: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature