NY/NJ Area wind leases. Tetra Tech

USA - Congressman says Offshore Wind Will Adversely Impact North Atlantic Right Whale

Decommissioning of Turbines Only Way to Mitigate Effect

Ahead of his March 16 hearing on offshore wind at the Wildwood Convention Center, Congressman Jeff Van Drew is challenging the federal government and offshore wind companies to prove they have nothing to hide when it comes to negatively impacting the environment.

“Hearings are critical,” he said in a statement released last week condemning President Joe Biden’s administration for “its continual lack of transparency with the American people – this time about the correlation of offshore wind development and the death of endangered whales.”

Since the beginning of the year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries has reported the death of two North Atlantic right whales, one in Virginia and the other in North Carolina. There have been four documented entanglement cases, including two in North Carolina and one each in Massachusetts and Georgia. A repeat sighting of an entangled North Atlantic right whale off Cape May was also documented this year, according to NOAA.

NOAA declared an unusual mortality event in 2017 for the marine mammals. That event included 36 dead whales, 22 seriously injured and 39 sublethal injured or ill. The primary causes are entanglement in fishing equipment and vessel strikes – both “long-standing threats to the recovery of the species,” NOAA Fisheries said.

“They must prove that the development of these projects will have no effect on the environment, which is hard to believe following the death of over a dozen whales in the Northeast region where surveying is currently taking place,” Van Drew said. “It is also hard to believe when their own scientists have been wholly ignored when attempting to highlight concerns about these projects and their effect on endangered whale species.”

Van Drew’s latest comments follow the release of a May 13, 2022 missive from Sean Hayes, chief of protected species for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. In the letter to Brian Hooker, lead biologist for Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Hayes laid out how offshore wind development in New England would negatively affect the North Atlantic right whale.

That marine mammal species has been on the endangered list for more than five decades, and there are currently only an estimated 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining, with fewer than 70 breeding females, according to NOAA.

“Right whales are one of the most endangered marine mammals,” Hayes wrote in his missive to Hooker, noting right whale foraging distribution began to significantly shift in 2010 with a continuous increase of the marine mammal in southern New England waters, where almost 50% of the reproductive female right whale population has been sighted. “Right whale distribution in the southern New England region occurs in and adjacent to offshore wind energy lease areas, which they occupy throughout the year.”

In addition to the right whale, the western edge of Nantucket Shoals is a significant habitat for other protected species, including sea turtles, Hayes wrote.

“The development of offshore wind poses risks to these species, which is magnified in southern New England waters due to species abundance and distribution. These risks occur at varying stages, including construction and development, and include increased noise, vessel traffic, habitat modifications, water withdrawals associated with certain substations and resultant impingement/entrainment of zooplankton, changes in fishing effort and related potential increased entanglement risk, and oceanographic changes that may disrupt the distribution, abundance, and availability of typical right whale food,” according to the Hayes letter. “The focus of this memo is on operational effects, and as such, focuses on potential oceanographic impacts driving right whale prey distribution, but also acknowledges increased risks due to increased vessel traffic and noise.”

Read more.