🐳 Experts testify offshore wind surveys are not causing whale deaths
🐳 Whales and dolphins have been dying by astounding numbers this year
🐳 The deaths have sparked furious debate and speculation over off-shore wind work

In response to the growing number of dead whales and dolphins washing up on New Jersey beaches since last year, certain Republican lawmakers have held two unofficial hearings to gather testimony about a possible link to the deaths and offshore wind survey work that is underway off the New Jersey coast.

On Thursday, the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, controlled by Democratic lawmakers, held its own official hearing on marine mammal deaths, gathering testimony from several scientific community experts.

During his testimony, New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said that as a result of climate change, the oceans are getting warmer, and for years that has been changing the migration patterns of certain species including the Atlantic menhaden, a crucial food source for whales.

Whales began beaching themselves in the northeast in notable numbers in 2016. But the problem has gotten worse.

Whales chasing menhaden fish

APTOPIX Offshore Wind-Dead Whales
The body of a humpback whale lies on a beach in Brigantine N.J., after it washed ashore on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

He said because of ocean warming these prey-fish are moving landward, whales are chasing them, and “this landward migration is bringing whales into direct conflict with a shipping super-highway that resides just off our coast.”

He said that means whales are veering into a crowded highway of ships “that has experienced great growth in deliveries to what is the busiest port in the nation, and we are seeing mortality of whales in many instances, because of ship strikes."

He said the DEP is working with federal partners to study, monitor and better understand what is happening in the ocean, and infrastructure development, including pipelines, communication cables and offshore wind projects are overseen “without bias or preference to any outcome, seeking only to ensure the avoidance to adverse impacts to our environment.”

Burbo Bank Wind Farm Now Fully Operational
(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

More study is needed

Other experts testifying before the committee — including Danielle Brown, the director of research for Gotham Whale; Josh Kohut, a professor of oceanography at Rutgers University; Sheila Dean the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center — said that while a majority of whale deaths have taken place because of vessel strikes, no scientific cause for why this is happening has been established yet.

They also said that additional observation and study is needed to truly understand how climate change, whale and prey-fish migration patterns and shipping traffic are inter-connected.

Are whales getting disoriented?

Douglas Nowacek, a professor at the Duke University Marine Lab and an expert on how acoustic waves impact sea mammals, said certain types of lower frequency sounds being used in the offshore wind survey work could disorient whales, but the mammals would have to be within 141 meters of the equipment being used, which is extremely close, and how that could impact their behavior is unclear.

Killer Whales Swim Out To Sea After Beaching In QLD

He also said that the types of acoustic sound waves used in gas and oil exploration are much louder and more intense.

LaTourette said offshore wind development has absolutely nothing to do with the uptick in whale and dolphin deaths.

“The culprit is a changing environment, and our inabilities societally to get it under control," he told the panel.

He noted this conclusion is based on multiple lines of evidence over a period of several years.

A call to halt offshore survey work

AP/Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
AP/Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

Back in March, U.S. Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J. 2nd District, and Chris Smith, R-N.J. 4th District, held an unofficial hearing on offshore wind in Wildwood, and a group of New Jersey State Senate Republicans also held a hearing at the Statehouse last month, with a panel of invited guests discussing the uptick in whale and dolphin deaths and possible links to offshore wind survey work.

Both panels called for a halt to offshore wind development until researchers can determine the cause of the increase in marine mammal deaths.

Several Jersey Shore mayors and some environmental groups have made a similar plea.

Murphy and multiple federal agencies along with several environmental groups have rejected the idea that offshore wind survey work underway has anything to do with the increase in whale and dolphin deaths.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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