Prospective whale safety research near east coast offshore wind farms

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As dead whales continue to wash ashore on the US East Coast – and particularly the Jersey Shore – officials and academics are planning a wide range of research and studies aimed at preventing or reduce harm to whales and other marine life during offshore wind construction and operation. farms.

A dead whale was washed ashore Thursday in New Jersey, a day after another was found in New York amid a continuing wave of whale deaths on the East Coast. Twenty-five of the animals have died since December 1, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A research and monitoring initiative announced last year by New Jersey’s environmental and utility regulators is launching several projects to establish a baseline of ocean conditions, with plans to monitor while wind farms are being built. and running them.

A BIDEN administration scientist raised a warning about damaging offshore wind a few months ago

The $26 million program is financed – but not carried out – by the offshore wind companies Orsted and Atlantic Shores, which the state must pay for the research as part of their projects.

Similar wind-related research is being conducted by states from Maine to South Carolina, officials said.

The investigation was announced long before a series of whale deaths were reported, with offshore wind opponents blaming the deaths on site preparation work for wind farms off New Jersey and New York. Various elected officials are pushing to halt or completely stop offshore wind projects, citing the death of the whales.

But three federal scientific agencies – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Marine Mammal Commission – say there is no evidence linking offshore wind activity to whale deaths.

The federal government has been investigating the whale deaths since it declared an “unusual mortality event” involving a humpback in 2016. Since then, 186 of the animals have died between Maine and Florida , with a high of 34 in 2017.

New Jersey’s work involves placing listening devices on the ocean floor to record the presence of whales and other marine mammals in a specific area, and using an underwater tracker equipped with sensors that can hear whale calls. It also includes tracking the movement of different fish species and using environmental DNA to tell which animals have been in certain areas of the ocean.

Whale safety is planned near offshore wind farms on the East Coast, where there has been a reported spike in whale strandings and deaths.

Whale safety is planned near offshore wind farms on the East Coast, where there has been a reported spike in whale strandings and deaths. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Some of the efforts are already underway, including a sound recorder operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on a buoy off Atlantic City, and others are set to begin as soon as next month.

“We have an opportunity to get the ground,” said Kira Lawrence, of the state Board of Public Utilities, who provided an update this week on the projects. “It’s important that we get a handle on what’s out there and as it is currently changing. We will get a sense of when and where whales are around project areas.”

Other work involved in the initiative includes the development of a special drive for surf clams that can move more easily in tight spaces around wind farms, supporting multi-state wildlife monitoring regional, and the use of wind turbine platforms as monitoring stations for wildlife. and environmental conditions.

The update on the research work came amid a continuing wave of whale deaths on the East Coast.

Necropsies have been performed on 13 of the 25 whales that have beached since Dec. 1, indicating that ship strikes were the likely cause of at least eight of the deaths, NOAA spokeswoman Andrea Gomez said. . The group is awaiting the results of microscopic tissue samples on the remaining animals, she said.

The breakdown of deaths by species is: 18 humpback whales between New York and North Carolina; 3 sperm whales between New York and Florida; two South Atlantic right whales in North Carolina and Virginia; one sei whale in North Carolina and one minke whale in New York, according to NOAA.

A dead whale is seen off the coast of New York, New Jersey

A number of similar research projects are underway in New York, including the use of small transmitter tags for birds and bats near offshore wind farms, a study of how seabirds might interaction with wind turbines, and the creation of a database to incorporate anglers’ knowledge of offshore wind. decisions.

New Jersey projects that have not yet been approved for funding, but are planned, include sea turtle tagging to track their movements, and expanded bird and bat studies.

At an online presentation of the campaign Monday by state officials, offshore wind opponents renewed complaints about the visibility of wind turbines from the shore and raised fears that wind projects could harm or kill wildlife.

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“I just want to make sure we don’t permanently remove these beautiful animals from our coast,” said Randall Snyder, a radiologist from Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island, one of several wind-resistant hotbeds offshore. .

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