7th dead whale washes up at Jersey Shore. Calls to stop offshore wind work grow.
UPDATE: Offshore wind work to go ahead despite 7 dead whales and investigation, Murphy says
The seventh dead whale in just over a month has washed up on the New York-New Jersey coastline, a local photographer and climate group told NJ Advance Media on Friday.
The humpback whale, the resident said, washed up on a beach in Brigantine.
“This was on the north end of Brigantine,” said Connie Pyatt, who noted that the whale was dead.
The dead whale washed up just a few miles from where another whale was found in Atlantic City on Saturday — which itself washed up blocks away from where another humpback whale was found in December.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a nonprofit organization that is chartered by the state to rescue marine mammals and respond to whale strandings, did not immediately provide comment Friday.
In a summary of the incident, the center said Friday that the whale was first reported on Jan. 12 at 4:50 p.m.
“When staff arrived, they found the 20-25 foot body upside down in the surf. “Due to the incoming tide and low light last night, staff returned at dawn this morning to take photos,” the center said. “After a conference call with members of NOAA Fisheries and the Greater Atlantic Region Standing Network to work out the logistics, plans are underway to perform a necropsy on the animal.”
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which indicated it will post updates on the latest stranding, said it will revisit the area to take samples and measurements at the next low tide, but asked for patience due to short staffing.
“These results may take several months to come back before the cause of death can be determined, if at all,” the center said, noting that residents should stay away from the area for their own safety.
The closure comes amid protests from climate groups who said Monday in Atlantic City that six dead whales in five weeks called for a complete ban on offshore wind development pending an investigation. The groups worry that pre-construction offshore wind turbines could be causing harm to marine life because of the noise and sonar that could be released during survey work, as well as the potential for ship strikes.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Long Branch-based nonprofit Clean Ocean Action, said the group was also aware of the whale that blew up in Brigantine on Friday and was sending organizers to the site.
“This is bad news on top of bad news,” Zipf told NJ Advance Media Friday by phone.
READ MORE: Are more dead whales washing up? A look at the numbers of the last 20 years
“This is devastating and shows even more urgency to our call to action for (President Joe) Biden and Gov. Phil Murphy to call for a halt to all activities,” she added. “Stop adding more projects and do a comprehensive investigation with experts and full transparency with oversight.”
While no offshore wind turbines have been built in New Jersey, several projects are in the works as Murphy pushes for the Garden State to reach its offshore wind generation goal of 11,000 megawatts of use by 2040.
Murphy on Wednesday during a radio appearance called the spate of whale deaths “tragic” and said an investigation was underway to determine the cause. A spokesman from his office deferred comment Friday to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA officials said the federal agency was also involved in the investigation of the Brigantine incident.
“We must suspend all work related to offshore wind development until we can determine the cause of death for these whales, some of which are endangered,” said state Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic). in a statement. “Work related to offshore wind projects is the main change in our waters and it is hard to believe that the death of (whales) on our beaches is just a coincidence.”
Rep. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., also called for a moratorium on offshore wind work.
On Thursday, before the seventh whale stranding, a NOAA spokeswoman said no offshore wind developer has been authorized to seriously harm or kill whales as part of survey work.
But climate groups, such as Save LBI and the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, continue to urge officials to investigate the blockages further.
According to data from the Marine Mammal Center, 12 whales washed up in New Jersey in 2019 and 2020. Five washed up in the state in 2021, followed by six last year. Since Dec. 5, five have been reported at various New Jersey beaches and two in New York.
NOAA is currently studying an increase in reported humpback whale deaths since 2016 across the East Coast. Officials there said so far no whale deaths have been attributed to offshore wind activities.
Furthermore, the number of necropsied whales appears to be low. As of January 2016, 174 dead stranded whales were reported in 13 states, including New Jersey. Of those, about 87 were examined after their deaths, and about 40% of those examined were found to have died due to a ship collision or entanglement, NOAA said. It is not known how the others died.
Two humpback whales washed up in Atlantic City on December 23 and January 7. Environmental groups and officials said a humpback whale also breached in Amagansett, New York, on Dec. 6, followed by a female sperm whale at Rockaway Beach in Queens. New York, on December 12.
A 12-foot juvenile sperm whale was found here in Keansburg on Dec. 5, and a juvenile humpback whale on Strathmere Beach five days later.
“Necropsies (internal examinations) were completed on the two sperm whale impoundments and two of the last four humpback whale impoundments in the area,” a NOAA spokeswoman said Thursday. “Since the cause of death is not always clear at first examination, biologists took samples from these whales and will work with laboratory partners to review them in the coming months. Decomposition can limit our ability to determine a definitive cause of death.”
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Steven Rodas can be reached at s[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.