NJ governor: No pause in wind farm prep after 7th dead whale
BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) – New Jersey’s governor said Friday he doesn’t think underwater preparations for offshore wind farms should stop in response to a recent spate of whale deaths in New Jersey and New York.
Democrat Phil Murphy spoke after local, state and federal lawmakers called for a temporary pause in ocean floor preparation work for offshore wind projects in New Jersey and New York after another dead whale washed ashore in the area.
Also Friday, most New Jersey environmental groups warned against linking offshore wind work to whale deaths, calling such associations “baseless and premature.”
The death was the seventh in just over a month. The spate of casualties prompted an environmental group and several citizen groups opposed to offshore wind to ask President Biden earlier this week for a federal investigation into the deaths.
Thursday’s latest death was that of a 20- to 25-foot (6 to 7.6-meter-long) humpback whale. Her remains washed ashore in Brigantine, north of Atlantic City, which itself has seen two dead whales on its beaches in recent weeks.
There was no immediate word on what caused the latest death. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, based in Brigantine, said it and several other groups were formulating plans Friday for a postmortem examination of the whale’s remains before the animal’s carcass is disposed of, most likely through beach burial.
“We must suspend all work related to offshore wind development until we can determine the cause of death of these whales, some of which are endangered,” said New Jersey State Senator Vince Polistina. a Republican representing the area. “The work associated with offshore wind projects is a major change in our waters and it is hard to believe that the death of (seven) whales on our beaches is just a coincidence.”
Murphy said he doesn’t think a ban on offshore wind development is necessary.
“It’s tragic, obviously,” he said.
Murphy cited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which said earlier this week that no humpback whales — the species that account for most of the recent whale deaths in New Jersey and New York — have been found to have been killed by the activities of offshore wind.
“They’ve been saying that this has been happening at an increased rate since 2016, and that was long before there was any offshore wind activity,” the governor said. “It looks like some of these whales were hit by the ship.”
Orsted, the Danish wind energy developer slated to build two of the three offshore wind projects approved so far in waters off New Jersey, said its current work off the New Jersey coast does not involve the use of sounds or other actions that may disturb the whales.
He did not say what kind of work he is doing in New Jersey and did not respond to that question in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.
Environmental group Clean Ocean Action said such fieldwork typically involves exploring the ocean floor using focused pulses of low-frequency sound at the same frequency that whales hear and communicate, which can injure or disorient the animals.
Brigantine Mayor Vince Sera joined the call for a temporary moratorium on offshore wind farm development, as did U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Republican congressman who represents southern New Jersey.
At a news conference Monday in Atlantic City, groups calling on Biden to investigate the deaths said offshore wind developers have applied for authorization to harass or harm up to 157,000 marine mammals off the two states.
NOAA said 11 such applications are active in the area, but involve non-serious injury or harassment of marine animals, not killing them.
“NOAA Fisheries has not authorized or proposed to authorize death or serious injury for any wind-related actions,” agency spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said.
Most of New Jersey’s major environmental groups said this week they support offshore wind power.
“The climate crisis requires that we rapidly develop renewable energy, and offshore wind is critically important for New Jersey to achieve the state’s economic development and environmental justice goals,” the groups said in a statement.
Groups include Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, Sierra Club, New Jersey Audubon, NY/NJ Baykeeper and others.
“Blaming offshore wind projects for whale mortality without evidence is not only irresponsible, but it obscures the real threats of climate change, plastic pollution and unsustainable fisheries management practices to these animals,” said the Sierra Club director. in New Jersey, Anjuli Ramos-Busot.
“We need to base our decision-making on science and data, not on emotion or guesswork,” added Allison McLeod, policy director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
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