The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found in 2017 that approximately 40% of dead whales showed signs of ship strikes and/or fishing gear entanglement.

USA - Wind opponents spread myth about dead whales

They claim the offshore wind is responsible for a spike in whale deaths. Experts don’t buy it, but interest groups backed by fossil fuel money are spreading false information.

Activists and groups that oppose offshore wind energy have hit upon a new theme to recruit environmentally minded people for their campaign. They are linking offshore wind development to a sight and a smell that no one likes: a rotting humpback whale carcass washed up on a beach or bobbing with the current as seagulls pick at its flesh.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, they have blamed a recent spike in whale deaths on exploration devices that use sonar to seek wind turbine sites. Experts are unconvinced, but wind opponents, some with the help of funds from fossil fuel industry interests, have stoked more opposition to wind power among some residents and politicians in seaside communities. Tucker Carlson and other media personalities have also fanned the flames.

In a three-month period beginning in November 2022, 23 whales were found dead along the Eastern Seaboard, many in New Jersey and New York where some coastal residents were already opposed to the offshore wind farms — and were quick to link the deaths to offshore wind farm surveying and construction. Residents of some coastal communities received letters alleging that offshore wind projects would damage the local economy and environment, and a wave of disinformation campaigns targeted social media users.

“If you find yourself caught in one of these Facebook networks where you’re only getting a very specifically filtered barrage of misinformation and pseudoscience, pretty soon you’re way down the rabbit hole, and it’s very hard to pull people back,” said Peter Sinclair, an environmentalist and former contributor to Yale Climate Connections who has reported on misinformation campaigns targeting renewable energy. He noted that the decimation of local newspaper staff has left many people in news deserts, making them more susceptible to misinformation on social media platforms.

Experts who have actually studied the issue note that the vessels exploring for wind developers are heavily regulated and must watch out for marine mammals as well as refrain from using sonar until the animals leave the vicinity. Also, they note that the sonar used by the wind industry is much less powerful than that used by vessels exploring for offshore oil and gas, which is known to harm and even kill marine mammals.

“It is just dumb,” said Andrew Read, a professor of marine biology and director of Duke Marine Lab at Duke University in Beaufort, North Carolina. Read has been studying marine mammals for decades.

“There is not a lot of percussive energy in those types of surveys,” he said of wind exploration.

Read compared the sounds emitted during offshore wind surveying to the sound of a fan in a room, and he said that if the technology used to survey the ocean floor could cause damage to a mammal, it wouldn’t be humpbacks that would be vulnerable. It would be species like harbor porpoises that are more sensitive to the sonar frequency used to survey the seafloor and have been observed avoiding noisy areas.

So what is actually killing whales? Boats and fishing.

Since 2016, 208 humpback whales have been found either dead or stranded along shores stretching from Maine to Florida.

Scientists specializing in marine life believe that there are a number of factors involved in the latest cluster of deaths among humpback whales. First, the humpback whale population has grown, thanks to a moratorium on commercial whaling.

On top of that, the volume of cargo transported by ships more than doubled, from four to nearly 10.7 billion tons, globally between 1990 and 2021.

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