Whales Mysteriously Wash Up on New Jersey Shores, Sparking Concerns About Offshore Wind Projects

Six whales have mysteriously washed up dead on New Jersey shores since December, sparking debate about offshore wind projects.

The carcass of a humpback whale was found Monday on the beach near Whiting Avenue Beach in Manasquan, New Jersey, Advanced Media reported. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has confirmed a total of nine whales have been found on the shoreline the state shares with New York, the outlet noted.

NJ 1015 reported the whale would be taken to a local landfill for further examination.

“Necropsy teams, Marine Mammal Stranding Center and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, arrived around 8am” as crews from Monmouth County and Manasquan worked to remove the body, Clean Ocean Action, an organization that focuses on water quality, wrote in a Facebook post.

As of February 13, the NOAA has recorded ten humpback whale strandings on the east coast of the United States in 2023 alone, with half of those strandings having occurred in New Jersey.

Some observers have suggested a link between the apparent uptick in whale strandings and offshore wind power development projects. 

“This alarming number of deaths is unprecedented in the last half century. The only unique factor from previous years remains to be the excessive scope, scale, and magnitude of offshore wind powerplant activity in the region,” Clean Ocean Action wrote in another post.

The organization expressed concern “about the lack of federal action being taken to address the deaths of these marine mammals, which include endangered and protected species.”

There “are four renewable energy efforts underway” off the Garden’s State’s coast and another three are underway off the coast of New York state, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reports.

The NJ Advance notes wind turbines have not yet been implemented off New Jersey’s shore, but emphasized the pre-construction projects underway are of concern among advocates, who “fear sonar mapping and increased vessel activity during development could put danger whales in danger.” 

The NOAA has asserted there is no evidence to support a correlation between the underwater surveys and whale deaths, as CBS News reported: 

 NOAA Fisheries has said 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.”

In January, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) called for the state to halt all offshore wind projects “until research [has] disclosed the impacts these projects would have on our environment and the impacts on the fishing industry.” 

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has pushed for wind power development despite blowback from some environmentalists, as well as the state’s fishing industry, telling local NPR affiliates in September, “This is a huge opportunity for us to access clean energy, that again, will benefit … for generations, literally, to come.”

Despite pushback from Clean Ocean Action last month, Murphy indicated he believed survey works should move forward, the NJ Advanced Media noted

Mayor Paul Kanitra of Point Pleasant Beach has expressed frustration with the state’s policy, writing in a Facebook post:

I’m currently standing on the beach a few hundred feet from the Manasquan Inlet watching yet another dead whale wash into the surf. It’s the size of a bus and it could easily come ashore in Point Pleasant Beach. I guarantee you if it does we will personally test it and get to the bottom of this. Governor, when do these stop becoming coincidences? How many more will it take?

The NOAA has suggested factors other than offshore wind projects may be behind the whales washing up. 

“We know several factors that may be driving these interactions,” Lauren Gaches, NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman said in January, citing growth in the whale population, as well as the possibility that whale hunting patterns are bringing them closer to the shore, per New Jersey Advanced Media.

You can follow Michael Foster on Twitter at @realmfoster.

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