A whale washed ashore in Manasquan, New Jersey, on Monday – the ninth whale found dead since early December off the New York-New Jersey coast – further fueling debate over what is causing the frequent mortalities along the coast. from the Atlantic coast.
“I am currently standing on the beach a few hundred yards from Manasquan Cove watching yet another dead whale fall into the waves,” Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra posted on Facebook on Monday. “Governor, when does this stop being a coincidence? How many more will it take?”
What is behind whale mortality has not been clearly established, but theories abound. Some activists and local officials blame the development of offshore wind energy in the region, claiming that building the sites harms marine animals. But federal officials backed away, saying that’s not what the evidence shows.
Kanitra was one of 12 New Jersey mayors who wrote a letter to the New Jersey congressional delegation in late January demanding a moratorium on all offshore wind activities until “further investigations are conducted by federal and state agencies that determine that these activities are not a contributing factor”. to recent whale deaths.”
There were 10 humpback whale deaths in 2023, with six of those deaths occurring in the New Jersey-New York regions, according to unusual mortality event statistics collected by NOAA Fisheries. Since the agency began collecting the data on January 1, 2016, there have been 183 deaths, most of them occurring along the east coast in Massachusetts, New York, and predominantly in New Jersey.
Some activists and officials say the deaths are linked to the rise of offshore wind projects that are part of the Biden administration’s goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, “enough to supply 10 million homes with clean energy,” he says. the government . In February 2022, six leases totaling more than 488,000 acres were opened through competitive bidding for wind energy development in the ocean region of New York Bight.
“The Biden administration and Governor Murphy continue to ignore resounding calls for an investigation to address the historic increase in whales being killed as offshore wind development increases on our beaches,” New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, a Republican, wrote. in a statement on its website Tuesday.
There are currently four offshore wind projects in New Jersey, according to the government agency Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which lists the projects on its website. In New York, there are three projects underway, according to the agency. These projects include seafloor surveys.
NOAA Fisheries said “there is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from site characterization surveys related to wind development could cause whale mortality and no specific link between recent mortality in large whales and current surveys.” in progress”.
During a conference call with journalists on January 18, experts convened by NOAA rejected the idea that the number of whale deaths was linked to offshore wind activities. Autopsies were performed on more than half of the dead whales, and about 40 percent of the deaths were caused by entanglement or collision with vessels, said Sarah Wilkin, coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.
“These are human interactions that are potentially linked to animal mortality, causing injury and death. The other animals were inconclusive, and that’s for a wide variety of reasons,” Wilkin said. “Generally, the state of decomposition plays an important role and can make it difficult to determine the definitive cause of death.”