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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a draft of their strategy to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW) from the hazards of offshore wind development this past fall.
The report is a heartbreaking portrayal of the plight of the 336 remaining right whales. Approximately 230 animals have died over the past decade. Autopsies and photo documentation conclude that fishing gear entanglement and vessel strikes have caused the deaths. “Stressors” of industrialized ocean noise and dwindling food sources have contributed to reduced health and compromised body condition in 42% of the remaining population.
“Human-caused mortality is so high,” BOEM scientists state, “that no adult NARW has been confirmed to have died from natural causes in several decades; for a species that might live a century, most animals have a low probability of surviving past 40.”
Fewer than 70 reproductively able females remain, with their lifetime calving potential having been reduced “from more than a dozen to perhaps just 2–3 calves.” NOAA Fisheries survey of right whale numbers and health concludes “the species faces a high risk of extinction,” with “the loss of even one individual a year” reducing any chance of future recovery.
Projected harm from offshore wind (OSW) development resulting in right whale mortality, serious injury, behavioral disturbances and, ultimately, starvation is listed: 1) exposure to vessel and construction noise and pressure (from extensive sonar mapping of the ocean floor, pile driving and the detonation of unexploded WW2 ordinances); 2) entanglement in turbine cables and moorings; 3) increased risk of vessel strikes inherent in OSW construction, operational and maintenance activities; and 4) changes to habitat affecting zooplankton food sources due to the alteration of ocean circulation, water mixing from operative turbines, and prey being sucked into the cooling water intakes of high-voltage cable systems.
The report includes maps showing extensive overlap of offshore wind areas with right whale migration routes and feeding, breeding, calving, and resting habitat “critical to their survival” from Maine to the Carolinas. BOEM surprises with its stark admission, “The overlap between OSW development (planned, leased, and permitted) and NARW habitat extends to corridors outside the immediate development sites, where vessel traffic between ports and offshore sites [and noise and ecosystem-level changes] would further overlap with the distribution of NARWs.” The plan is to develop 22 million acres (8%) of the continental shelf along the eastern seaboard despite “NARWs migrating along the U.S. Atlantic Coast travel through or nearby every proposed OSW development.”
This catastrophic news for the right whale leads directly into BOEM’s so-called “Strategy … to protect and promote the recovery of North Atlantic right whales while responsibly developing offshore wind energy.”
Apparently, this having-and-eating-the-cake master plan will be accomplished through various untested, unproven, and unfunded “mitigation” efforts carried out by wind companies with NOAA Fisheries oversight. Yet, as the report acknowledges: “NOAA and BOEM recognize that the majority of the funding required to support the actions described in this Strategy will require support from multiple sources, including, government, states, industry and other stakeholders. This funding has not been secured.”
BOEM’s right whale/offshore wind “strategy” is cover-your-behind political chicanery in service of the offshore wind industry’s furious rush toward cashing in on enormous amounts of public monies. Most distressingly, it is also the industry’s ticket to the annihilation of the last of the North Atlantic right whales.
Constance Gee is a Westport resident.
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