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6 dead whales washed ashore in New York and New Jersey near surveying sites for offshore wind

People gather around a 30-foot humpback whale after it was moved after washing up near the Florida Avenue Beach and Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Saturday morning Saturday. Jan. 07, 2023. / nj.com & cleanoceanaction.org
Clean Ocean Action
Clean Ocean Action
People gather around a 30-foot humpback whale after it was moved after washing up near the Florida Avenue Beach and Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 2023.

Six endangered whales have washed up dead on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey over the past month, an unprecedented number for this area in the last half century.

These whales include two sperm whales, one of which was an infant calf, and four humpback whales, two of which were juveniles. They were found near the New York Bight, a region being surveyed for offshore wind development.

In addition to these deaths, a male North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the coast of North Carolina on Jan. 9, near another place where offshore wind project sites are being planned for construction.

Several organizations are calling for President Biden to investigate the whale deaths and halt offshore projects until causes of death are determined. The groups are concerned that survey boats may be striking whales that come to the surface to feed.

Bonnie Brady, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, is urging for an investigation to prevent further deaths.

“If the offshore wind energy activities are deemed the cause, a moratorium should continue until stringent protection measures are established," Brady said. "These are endangered species.”

The Clean Ocean Action Coalition also attributes this sudden rise in whale deaths to the planned offshore wind development, especially through pulse-making survey boats.

According to a statement from the coalition, these geo-technical survey boats characterize the sea floor through focused pulses of sound. The advocates said these sounds at high levels have the potential to harm and even deafen whales that rely on sound frequencies to communicate, leading to starvation and death.

Kari Martin, the advocacy campaign manager for Clean Ocean Action, said wind projects must be investigated to determine if there is a correlation between these whale deaths and surveying.

“We need to find out what’s going on with these whales and if it is related to the offshore wind pre-construction activities that companies have applied for authorization to harm marine mammals,” Martin said.

Annual North Atlantic Right Whale Mortalities by Cause of Death, 2017-2023 / NOAA Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries
Annual North Atlantic right whale mortalities by cause of death, 2017-2023.

The coalition estimates that over 150,000 marine mammals are at risk from offshore wind projects, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the North Atlantic right whale has suffered from an unusual mortality event since 2017 with 35 whale deaths recorded to date. It’s estimated that fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remain in the world.

The Biden administration has not responded to these ocean advocacy groups yet.

Eric Warner is a news fellow at WSHU.