PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Unfounded claims about whales threatened by offshore wind have emerged as a flashpoint in the fight over the future of renewable energy.
In recent months, conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, have claimed that the construction of offshore wind turbines is killing the mammoths.
Scientists say there is no credible evidence linking offshore wind farms to whale deaths. But that hasn't stopped conservative groups and ad-hoc "not in my backyard" style anti-evolution groups from making connections.
The Associated Press sorts fact from fiction when it comes to whales and wind energy as migration season for rare North Atlantic right whales gets underway:
Where are the US offshore wind projects?
To date, two commercial offshore wind farms are under construction in the United States. Danish wind energy developer Ørsted and utility Eversource are building South Fork Wind, located 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Montauk Point. New York, Ørsted announced the first of its 12 turbines on December 7 Now electricity is being sent to the grid. Vineyard Wind is building a 62-turbine wind farm 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Massachusetts. Both plan to open by early next year, and other large offshore wind projects are receiving permits.
Ørsted's two big offshore wind projects delayed due to lawsuits from community groups new Jersey And the company recently announced its cancellation Those projects. The decision was based on their economic feasibility and had nothing to do with the offshore wind protests in New Jersey, said David Hardy, group executive vice president and CEO Americas at Ørsted.
Are US wind farms causing the death of whales?
Experts say there is no evidence that limited wind farm construction on the Atlantic coast has directly caused whale deaths, despite politically motivated statements suggesting a link.
Rumors began to spread after 2016, when unusual numbers of whales began being found dead or stranded on New England beaches – a trend that predates major offshore wind farm construction that began this year.
"With whales stranding in the Northeast in places like New Jersey earlier this year, the reality is that it's not from offshore wind," said Aaron Rice, a marine biologist at Cornell University.
In response to questions about whale strandings earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that about 40% of recovered whale carcasses showed evidence of death from fishing gear entanglement or ship strikes. Others could not be linked to any specific cause.
In Europe, where offshore wind development has been underway for more than three decades, national agencies have also found no causal link between wind farms and whale deaths.
Meanwhile, US scientists are collecting data near offshore wind farms to monitor any potential impacts short of deaths, such as changing behavior or changes in migration routes. This research is still in the early stages, said Doug Novacek, a marine biologist at Duke University who helped put trackers on whales this summer near Massachusetts as part of a 5-year, federally-funded study.
What real threats do whales face?
Although the exact causes of recent whale strandings on the East Coast are not known, whales face threats from human activities.
Some advocates for whale protection have called the push against offshore wind energy a distraction from the real issues. "It seems like it's being used opportunistically by anti-wind interests," said Gib Brogan, fisheries campaign director at environmental group Oceana.
Since 2016, humpback whales have been dying off at a rapid rate – what the federal government calls "unusual mortality." equally rare north atlantic right whale with less more than 360 on earth is also experiencing an unusual mortality event.
NOAA reports that 83 whales have died on the East Coast since December 1, 2022. About half the humpbacks were between Massachusetts and. North CarolinaAnd there were two critically endangered right whales in North Carolina and Virginia.
What is being done to protect whales near wind farms?
Federal law sets limits on human-caused underwater sound For continuous noise and small sudden explosions.
Marine construction projects can minimize potential impacts on marine mammals, including stopping construction during migration season, using "bubble curtains" to block sound from pile-driving, and installing binoculars on ships to look for marine mammals. This includes deploying trained observers with
Offshore wind developers are taking the steps required by regulators, but are also adopting voluntary measures to ensure that marine mammals are not harmed. Ørsted will not drive piles between December 1 and April 30, when the whales are roaming. It uses additional lookout vehicles, surrounds the monopiles for the turbines with bubble curtains and conducts underwater acoustic monitoring.
Equinor plans to use acoustic monitoring and infrared cameras to detect whales when it begins development of two lease fields off Long Island with its partner BP. The company says it will limit pile driving to months when right whales are less likely to be present.
Why are some people blaming wind farms for whale deaths?
A vocal opponent of offshore wind is the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the foundation's Center for Energy, Climate and Environment, wrote in November that Ørsted's New Jersey wind project canceled was "unsightly" and a threat to wildlife.
"Whales and birds would benefit if offshore wind left the Garden State," Furchgott-Roth wrote.
Ørsted's Hardy said claims that wind farms are killing whales are "not scientific" but "very much politically motivated misinformation".
Another conservative public policy group, the Heartland Institute, has also pushed back against offshore wind projects. At the institute Arthur B. H. Sterling Burnett, director of the Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, said wind projects are unfairly subject to regulatory restrictions compared to fossil fuel projects.
"We believe it should be held to the same standard as any oil and gas project," Burnett said.
What is the impact of misinformation?
Opponents of offshore wind are using unsupported claims about harming whales to try to stop the projects, with some of the most vigorous opposition centered in New Jersey.
Misinformation could create resentment in coastal communities where developers are required to build infrastructure along the coast to operate wind farms.
Republican politicians have taken seriously the opposition of coastal towns and community groups. GOP congressman from New Jersey, maryland And Arizona gets the US Government Accountability Office open an inquiry Want a halt to further projects regarding the impacts of the offshore wind industry on commercial fishing and marine life.
New Jersey's Democrat-controlled legislature remains firmly behind the industry.
Are whales affected by climate change?
One reason whale advocates are pushing for renewable energy is that they say climate change is harming the animals — and less reliance on fossil fuels would help solve that problem.
Scientists say global warming is causing whales' favorite food - small crustaceans - to move as the water warms.
it means whale strayed from protected areas At sea in search of food, making them vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglements. Large whales play an extremely important role in the ecosystem by storing carbon, so some scientists say they are also part of the solution to climate change.
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