‘Unprecedented’ Rise in Whale Deaths Along East Coast Prompts Calls for Moratorium of Offshore Wind Farms

‘Unprecedented’ Rise in Whale Deaths Along East Coast Prompts Calls for Moratorium of Offshore Wind Farms
People walk down the beach to take a look at a dead whale in Lido Beach, N.Y., on Jan. 31, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)
Katabella Roberts
2/1/2023
Updated:
2/1/2023
0:00

At least 18 whales have washed up dead on the U.S. east coast in recent months, prompting concern from a group of mayors in the state of New Jersey who have called for an “immediate moratorium” on offshore wind farms.

In a letter to New Jersey congressional lawmakers, the mayors said they stand “united” in their concerns about the “unprecedented” number of whales that have washed ashore recently.

They called for an immediate moratorium on all offshore wind activities, a key part of New Jersey’s climate change strategy, until federal and state agencies can investigate the deaths and “confidently determine” that offshore wind activities are not contributing to them.

“On January 12th, the 7th dead whale in 38 days washed ashore in Brigantine, New Jersey. The unprecedented number of whale standings coincides with ongoing activity from acoustic survey vessels for the development of offshore wind, ”the letter, dated Jan. 30, reads.

“While we are not opposed to clean energy, we are concerned about the impacts these projects may already be having on our environment. We urge you to take action now to prevent future deaths from needlessly occurring on our shorelines.”

A man takes pictures of a dead whale in Lido Beach, N.Y., on Jan. 31, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)
A man takes pictures of a dead whale in Lido Beach, N.Y., on Jan. 31, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Another Dead Whale Washes Up on New York Beach

The call for the moratorium came on Monday following reports that yet another humpback whale was found dead off the New Jersey and New York coastline.
The whale was discovered at around 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday on Lido Beach in Nassau County, Fox 5 NY reported, and was already dead by the time emergency crews arrived.

Local crews initially moved the marine mammal—a male measuring up to 40 feet and weighing 29,000 pounds, according to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS)—further up the shore with the help of a payloader and excavator.

According to the AMCS, a team of biologists—which includes researchers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Center for Coastal Studies, Cornell University, and more—began conducting a necropsy on Tuesday to understand what prompted the sudden death of the whale, and to rule out potential causes such as disease, toxins, emaciation, and human causes.

Once they are finished conducting examinations and have collected tissues and fluids, the whale, thought to be aged around 40 years old or more, will be buried on a selected site at the beach.

However, the group warned that the results of the necropsy may take several weeks or longer.

“This is the 2nd humpback whale to strand in New York since December 1,” the group said. “NOAA Fisheries and our stranding network partners are actively investigating the humpback whale Unusual Mortality Event, which has been ongoing since 2016.”
Members of multiple rescue organizations work to remove the body of a 21-foot, approximately 5,000-pound, killer whale that stranded itself on the beach in the area of Jungle Hut Park in Flagler County, Florida, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Courtesy of the Flagler County Sheriff's Department)
Members of multiple rescue organizations work to remove the body of a 21-foot, approximately 5,000-pound, killer whale that stranded itself on the beach in the area of Jungle Hut Park in Flagler County, Florida, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Courtesy of the Flagler County Sheriff's Department)

Gov. Murphy Calls Whale Deaths ‘Tragic’

“Like the community that has been expressing concerns about recent whale deaths, the entire team share in sadness over the loss of these beautiful animals. Right now, we don’t know the cause of death. Vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the largest known human threats to whales of all species,” the group added.

AMCS also pointed to speculation about whether or not the whale deaths are linked to wind energy development but said that as of yet, there is no evidence to suggest offshore wind activities are contributing to the deaths.

Monday’s whale death brings the total to at least eight dead whales that have washed up in the New Jersey and New York areas in recent months, according to the mayors’ letter.

However, Andrea Gomez, a spokeswoman for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told USA TODAY that Monday’s discovery of the dead whale marked the “sixth stranded humpback whale reported in New Jersey, and the 18th large whale stranding along the east coast” since Dec. 1.

New Jersey-based Clean Ocean Action is also asking the federal government to probe the recent whale deaths to see if they may be linked to construction work or offshore wind farms.

Despite the rise in recent whale deaths, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said last month that the state won’t be pausing offshore wind development, although the Democratic governor said the deaths were “tragic.”

According to a NOAA study that began in 2016 looking into the rising number of humpback whale deaths along the Atlantic coast from Maine through Florida, 180 whale strandings have been reported, of which 24 were in New Jersey and 35 in New York.
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