As deaf whales are washed ashore in Taiwan, with hearing loss being the ‘primary reason’ for their demise, I ask the question: are stranded British whales and dolphins casualties of the offshore wind industry in this country?
Practically every day brings new reports of stranded whales and dolphins around the British coast, the numbers are on the rise and nobody seems to know why.
Ever expanding wind farms are beginning to dominate our coastal seas.
Is there a link?
I’ve suggested in previous articles that it might be wise, indeed essential, to halt the further proliferation of offshore wind farms until we have safely established whether or not giant fields of humming wind turbines are causing havoc to sound-sensitive marine mammals – but the industry seems to be oblivious to the signs. Something is definitely awry.
With research showing that beached whales were stranded after becoming deaf, it’s surely time to stop the madness and reassess the wind industry.
Damaged hearing – the ‘primary reason’ for the beaching of whales
In April last year, a headline in Taiwan’s Taipei Times read “Beached whales’ hearing badly damaged”. Taiwan’s Ocean Conservation Administration (OCA), discovered that scans on beached Pygmy Killer Whales showed abnormal shadows in their middle ears, concluding that it was a loss of hearing that caused them to become stranded. Indeed a beached Pilot whale that survived was placed under observation and was found to be completely deaf; according to observers the whale appeared to be “anxious and unable to swim normally.” It was duly noted that “this was the primary reason for its stranding.”
The definite cause of the whales’ hearing loss is not known, conservation specialists have suggested that it might have been caused by ‘some disease’. But it has nevertheless led to renewed concerns about the widespread construction of offshore wind farms in Taiwan, and there have been warnings that critically endangered Humpback Dolphins could be wiped out entirely by human activity, including wind farm development, off the coast of the island nation. The Taiwan conservation organisation MFCU said in statement that “the large-scale off-shore wind power plants along the western coast may also threaten the dolphins’ survival due to low-frequency noise by wind turbines”.
Warnings from science – but UK continues to champion offshore wind industry…
As we know, many marine mammals rely on sensitive sonar to navigate through our oceans, and infrasound from offshore wind turbines (along with other ocean noise such as seismic surveys and military sonar) can interfere with this, causing them to become confused and disorientated. Yet in spite of warnings from experts and scientists, the gung-ho and irresponsible proliferation of wind farms in our seas continues unabated.
The UK already has the largest offshore wind farm in the world, in the Irish Sea, and work is beginning on an even bigger development in the North Sea, which will comprise 87 turbines each 260 meters high. They will join the staggering 2,590 turbines already operating in the area.
The glaringly obvious potential for whale and dolphin strandings, caused directly by the giant offshore turbines, is apparently being largely ignored by authorities in the UK and many other countries, while the plans to recklessly expand offshore wind are hailed, by the gullible, as the answer to climate change and the energy crisis.
Since I last reported about the perils posed to marine life by the offshore wind industry, dead and dying whales and dolphins have continued to wash up in significant numbers around the UK coast, often in close proximity to the giant wind farms that have, without our permission, become a blot on our seascapes and perhaps the biggest folly of modern times.
And with developers and politicians clamoring to jump aboard the wind farm bandwagon, there seems little hope that the insanity of rampant offshore wind development will cease any time soon.
Whale beachings up by 15% in UK
Both wind farm construction and operation cause noise that affects whales and dolphins and many of us believe that this could be a significant cause of strandings.
The cautionary advice from Taiwan adds weight to this theory.
A quick look at whale strandings around the British coast shows that an alarming number of them take place close to offshore wind farms. Not so surprising as Britain’s coast is quickly becoming dominated by forests of enormous turbines.
According to research by the CSIP (Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme), whale beachings in the UK rose by 15% in the period 2011 to 2017, a total of 4,896 whales, dolphins and porpoises died. The actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher as not all carcasses are washed ashore.
A report in Science Focus points out that, in addition to other threats such as disease and plastic pollution, cetaceans are highly susceptible to environmental noise pollution, suggesting that “chronic noise from shipping and off-shore wind farms can drive animals away from their usual habitats and into dangerous environments”.
It seems logical to conclude that at least some of the whale deaths might be due to noise pollution from offshore wind farms.
Hundreds of ‘unexplained’ whale deaths – not caused by fishing, plastics or ship strike
Over a period of seven years, post mortems were carried out on about 1,000 specimens of whales and dolphins stranded on British beaches, in an attempt to discover the cause of their deaths.
According to the results, accidental entanglement in fishing gear (trawlers are commonly blamed for killing whales and dolphins) actually only accounted for around one in four deaths of Common Dolphins, and one in 10 of Harbour Porpoises. A further 25 individuals had been struck by a ship and just one single Cuvier’s Beaked Whale died after ingesting marine litter.
This leaves potentially hundreds of cetacean strandings around the coast of the UK with no conclusive explanation of exactly how and why the creatures died.
Damage to the delicate hearing of these animals might be a contributory cause, and the increasing noise from wind farm construction and operation in the seas around the UK should be taken into consideration as a possible factor in the mammals’ deaths.
While this seems worthy of investigation, there is much complacency within the industry and its army of supporters; birds and bats, we know, are being slaughtered by offshore turbines in large numbers, but nobody can see the dead bodies at sea. Explaining away stranded whales and dolphins might prove to be more of a challenge….
Whale and Dolphin deaths continue in areas where offshore wind farms proliferate…
Last month alone, two dead dolphins were washed ashore in Selsey and East Wittering on England’s south coast, close to Rampion offshore wind farm.
A whale was washed ashore on a beach in Walney, Cumbria, just a short distance from the world’s biggest offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea, an area that has been overwhelmed by industrial wind farm development in recent years.
But it’s the tip of the iceberg – the news was full of similar reports during 2019. And already in the first few weeks of 2020, the news is depressingly familiar with dolphins and whales appearing all too regularly, stranded on British beaches, including the terribly sad sight of a Killer Whale washed up in Norfolk, a very worrying event that begs further questions over the wisdom of building even more wind farms in the North Sea, an area, as mentioned earlier, already saturated with vast banks of turbines.
Has the whale, for so long a symbol of conservation, now become a casualty of an industry that markets itself as a saviour of the planet?
With so much environmental damage already attributed to the wind industry – on and off-shore – the modern fanciful folly that is wind energy might turn out to be one of the biggest contributors to environmental destruction that we have seen in recent times.
More research before more offshore wind farms
Who knows how many whales and dolphins are swimming around with hearing damage caused by the construction and operation of wind farms? And who knows how many will perish? The answer is simply that we do not know. And while we do not know, shouldn’t we just stop and think? It’s too big a risk to assume that these sensitive, magnificent and ancient creatures will adapt to the clumsy experiments of humankind.
As I have often repeated, we need much more independent research into the potentially catastrophic effects on wildlife before further offshore development is permitted. Alas, such research looks unlikely to happen on any significant scale; and would the industry and gullible politicians listen to words of warning anyway?
Perhaps the financial gain has become more of an incentive than the survival of our wildlife. That sounds familiar.
When the world finally wakes up to more dead whales on more beaches, it will probably be too late.
It seems that humankind will never learn, we have almost wiped out these incredible creatures several times before in our short history.
Somehow they have survived.
Now, with mind boggling stupidity, we might finally drive them to extinction through greed and a bumbling attempt to ‘save the planet’ pursuing wind energy.
If we continue to indulge this very dubious industry, we might stand to wipe out not only some of our rarest birds, bats and insects, but also earth’s greatest living mammals.
It would be the ultimate, tragic irony.
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