Ahead of GOP hearing, N.J. stresses no link between offshore wind and whale deaths
On the eve of a GOP-led hearing into offshore wind technology, state environmental officials said there is no link between those activities and the deaths of whales washing up on Jersey Shore beaches.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement there is “no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality” and there is “no reason to conclude” that whale deaths and offshore wind projects are related.
“As of March 2023, no offshore wind-related construction activities have taken place in waters off the New Jersey coast,” the statement says.
The department said it will continue to monitor the deaths of whales along the Atlantic coast, as it has with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration since 2016. That year began what officials have called an “unusual mortality event” involving whales.
Since December, nearly two dozen whales have been stranded off the coast of New Jersey and New York — at least nine have washed ashore in New Jersey — stoking debate about what’s behind the spate of deaths. A group of New Jersey activists and lawmakers have called for officials to cease offshore wind activities, blaming the type of sonar used in the seafloor surveys done in preparation for turbine construction.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric said earlier this month that there is “no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales, and no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys.”
New Jersey Reps. Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith, both Republicans, are holding a hearing into offshore wind Thursday at the Wildwood Convention Center with Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland). They expect to hear from fishing industry experts, environmental activists, and a former New Jersey Superior Court judge about the impact wind energy development has on tourism and marine life.
In a phone interview, Van Drew questioned whether the Department of Environmental Protection conducted a thorough enough study to know what’s behind the whale deaths.
“The one thing I know is that we’ve had a record number of whale deaths, and to say that that’s just totally normal is bizarre. Whether it’s due to this or something else, we don’t know at this point,” Van Drew said.
The recent whale deaths are not unprecedented. For the three-month period starting in December 2016, 10 animals were found along the coast between Virginia and North Carolina.
Recently, 30 Jersey Shore mayors called for a moratorium on offshore wind projects.
Wednesday’s statement from the Department of Environmental Protection said officials there believe rising ocean temperatures could be adversely affecting marine life, including whales, their food sources, and their migration patterns. Marine mammals are swimming into areas where they may find food more easily but are coming into contact with more humans and vessels, the statement says.
Several humpback whales that have washed up on the shore were found to have suffered injuries consistent with vessel strikes, including a 12-ton whale in Brigantine in January.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who has made a goal of generating 11,000 megawatts of energy from offshore wind turbines, has previously said he has no plans to call off the wind energy projects.