NJ Assembly marine mammal death hearing ignores facts, reinforces need for halt to offshore wind activities
Credit: May 18, 2023 ~~
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Today’s New Jersey Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s hearing on Marine Mammal Deaths reinforced the need for an immediate halt to all offshore wind permitting, surveying and preconstruction activities and solicitations for new power off the coast of New Jersey. This cessation is long overdue according to East Coast citizen-led marine and eco-advocacy groups opposing the proposed offshore wind developments here.
While this hearing provided an important public forum to examine the issues, it ignored key facts and basic science related to the recent spate of whale and dolphin deaths off NJ’s coast and the realities of offshore wind industrialization.
Specifically, participants at today’s hearing failed to acknowledge the fact that the unprecedented spike in whale and dolphin deaths here coincided precisely with a surge in offshore wind vessel activity.
On the subject of marine mammal deaths, many climate, fish migration, and shipping related explanations were offered by participants, but the single most obvious new variable – the significant increase in offshore wind-related survey vessel activities in close proximity to the whale and dolphin deaths – went largely unmentioned. This proved a glaring oversight and needs to be examined further by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees protection of all species in our coastal waters as well as federal agencies BOEM and NOAA.
Further, climate change-driven explanations put forth as causation for the recent spike in marine mammal deaths were not supported with facts. There is no evidence or data – climate or shipping related – that supports the unprecedented exponential increase in whale deaths in this region over the recent period. And, as Assemblyman McClellan pointed out, none were presented.
In addition, the potentially devastating yet unknown impacts of cumulative and simultaneous High Resolution Geophysical (HRG) offshore wind surveying in a compact regional environment like the waters off NJ and NY were largely avoided but for some assembly member questions. Unfortunately, this was a major shortcoming of the hearing and one that needs significant and immediate attention.
Participants focused on vessel strikes, fish and food source migration, and entanglements as the major causes of whale deaths even though official necropsy results have yet to be released. However, mapping and seismic sonar activities employed by offshore wind energy companies are known to cause harm to marine mammals including temporary temporal shifts (TTS) in hearing, otherwise known as temporary deafness, that can lead to disorientation and other behavioral changes. NOAA Fisheries (NMFS) acknowledges this fact with its take grants (IHAs and ITRs) to companies like Orsted and Atlantic Shores conducting such activities off the NJ coast.
In light of these facts, the obvious and plausible explanation for the marine mammal deaths would be avoidance behavior, masking of communications, temporary deafness or other loss of sound use capability to detect danger that could lead to death by ship strikes, beach stranding or other ultimate causes. Yet most participants failed to even acknowledge such a possibility.
The hearing also highlighted the limitations and delays related to the necropsy process for dead marine mammals. While understandably difficult given size, timing and resource issues, current necropsies lack sufficient rigor to establish proper diagnosis. Level C/Tier 3 full necropsies are needed to ascertain whether permanent hearing damage was a precipitating cause of death. This issue also needs to be further explored and addressed.
As evident by today’s hearing, significant and serious questions remain unanswered related to the environmental and economic impacts of the proposed offshore wind developments off of NJ’s coast. As such, the groups listed above again call for a halt to all offshore wind survey activities, permitting and solicitations for new power off the coast of NJ. The groups represent more than 60,000 members and 500k signatories to multiple petitions opposed to current proposals for offshore wind development off the East Coast.
For more information, contact Michael Dean at 646-505-8614, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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