American Oceans

Are Wind Farms Killing Whales?

Activists opposing offshore wind energy have recently attempted to recruit environmentally conscious individuals by linking whale deaths to sonar exploration devices used in wind turbine site selection.

lots of dead whales washed up on a beach

However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is scarce, and many experts disagree with these allegations.

Despite this, various media personalities and opponents backed by fossil fuel industry interests have fueled skepticism towards wind power.

Overview of Wind Farms and Whales

mature humpback whale length underwater

Between November 2022 and January 2023, 23 whales were found dead along the Eastern Seaboard, particularly in New Jersey and New York, where some locals already opposed offshore wind farms.

There, they quickly associated whale deaths with the wind farm surveying and construction.

Moreover, disinformation campaigns targeted social media users, making misinformation difficult to counter.

The Facts About Wind Farms

offshore wind farm

According to experts, vessels surveying for wind farms are heavily regulated and must avoid marine mammals.

The sonar they use is less powerful than that employed by vessels exploring for offshore oil and gas, which are known to harm marine life.

Andrew Read, a marine biology professor at Duke University, states that wind exploration surveys produce minimal noise when compared to other human activities in the ocean.

Boats and fishing are more likely to be responsible for the 208 humpback whales found dead or stranded along the Atlantic Coast since 2016.

The growing whale population, increased cargo transportation, and changes in migratory patterns due to climate change are also contributing factors.

Current Research on Whale Deaths and Wind Farms

boat trawling at offshore brighton sussex coast

NOAA Fisheries revealed that about 40% of dead whales examined showed signs of being hit by ships or entangled in fishing gear.

Furthermore, climate change is affecting humpback whales’ migration with warming waters and abundance of menhaden, their preferred prey, in highly trafficked areas.

While whale deaths fuel anti-offshore wind sentiments, clusters of marine mammal deaths, known as Unusual Mortality Events, are unfortunately not rare.

Since 1991, NOAA recorded 72 such events involving various marine species. North Atlantic right whales are particularly at risk, with some 350 individuals remaining globally.

Many have been injured or killed due to entanglements or vessel strikes.

Drew Carey, vice president of the Americas at Venterra Group, emphasizes that climate change’s impact on marine ecosystems is known, unlike offshore wind farms.

He adds that the acoustic energy used in offshore wind surveys is significantly lower than oil and gas exploration, similar to the energy level of fish finders used by fishing vessels.

To counter increasing whale mortality, NOAA proposes annual speed reduction zones along the Eastern Seaboard from November to April.

Ultimately, the relationship between offshore wind farms and whale deaths appears unsubstantiated and misled by disinformation campaigns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do wind farms harm marine life?

Wind farms may have some impact on marine life, but the extent of the harm remains largely unknown.

Careful planning and mitigation measures can be taken to minimize any potential negative effects.

It is essential to consider the broader context of climate change and the role of clean energy in reducing carbon emissions when assessing the overall impact of wind farms on marine ecosystems.

What are the effects of wind farms on ocean ecosystems?

The presence of wind farms can lead to temporary disturbances in the habitats of marine species during the construction phase.

However, once operational, the impact of wind farms on ocean ecosystems is considered minimal.

In some cases, the foundations of wind turbines can serve as artificial reefs, providing new habitats and encouraging biodiversity.

How do offshore wind farms influence whale populations?

While there have been concerns about the potential effects of wind farm construction on whale populations, there is no definitive evidence to suggest a direct link between wind farms and adverse impacts on these marine mammals.

Whales may be affected by underwater noise and vibrations caused by wind farm operations, but the extent of this impact remains unclear.

What precautions do wind farms take to safeguard marine animals?

Wind farm developers and operators implement various measures to protect marine life, such as conducting environmental impact assessments, adjusting construction timings to avoid interfering with critical life stages, and implementing real-time monitoring systems to detect the presence of marine mammals.

These measures aim to minimize the potential disturbance to marine species during the construction and operation of wind farms.

Are there studies refuting a connection between wind farms and whale deaths?

Yes, there have been studies stating that there is no evidence of a direct link between the development of offshore wind farms and whale deaths.

Researchers continually monitor and study the relationship between wind farms and marine life to better understand the potential impacts.

How does underwater noise from wind farms affect marine species?

Underwater noise generated by wind farms could potentially disrupt the behavior of marine species, such as migration, feeding, and breeding.

However, it is important to note that the sound from wind farm operations, such as those produced during high-resolution geophysical (HRG) surveys, is significantly different from louder sources like seismic airguns used in oil and gas surveys or military sonar.

More research is needed to understand the full extent of the impact of wind farm-generated noise on marine life.

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