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Why Whales Are Dying in New York and New Jersey

image credit: Seth Wenig / AP Photo ) Mav 23. 2023
Mark Silverstone's picture
Principal, JMP Services AS

30+ years in Oil & Gas Industry Field of Interest: Environmental issues in general; waste management issues in particular. 

  • Member since 2002
  • 916 items added with 67,156 views
  • Jun 2, 2023

It may be worthwhile to listen to this approximately 12 minute podcast of the NPR interview by Brian Lehrer with Andy Read.

Dr. Read is a professor of marine biology and the director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory. He  talks about why so many beached whales are turning up on the New York and New Jersey coastlines, and why claims from some groups that surveying for wind farms is causing the deaths are untrue.

Lehrer quotes what Marjorie Taylor Greene recently said on Fox news:

I'm not sure, I don't know why AOC isn't dressed in white and crying for the dead whales that keep washing on the beach from wind farms that are being placed all over the ocean. People are calling the alarms over how this is not only killing unknown thousands of bird species but also causing whales to beach themselves at record numbers.»

Lehrer asserts that

"...usually, it’s Democrats who center environmentalism and Republicans who shout that it’s gone too far. So, why are Marjorie Taylor Greene, New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and other Republicans suddenly getting loud about saving the whales? Maybe it’s because the alleged threat to the whales, which may actually be fake, is part of the campaign to delegitimize climate change policy.

«Another way to put it: Protecting whales may be a new back door to protecting the fossil fuel industry.»"

At the very least it is an indication that various interest groups are determined, via misinformation, to impede the progress of the adoption of renewable sources of electricity.  

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Brian Lehrer: The question is this, is it true or is it false that the development of offshore wind turbines, which are being built to protect the climate, are having the negative side effect of killing whales? Another way to frame the question is this, are Republicans suddenly concerned with protecting the whales because it's a way to protect the fossil fuel industry?

Andy Read: Yes. We should be clear that most of those species, most of the stranded whales are humpback whales, not right whales. Those numbers, the numbers you noted, 23 this year, are really nothing out of the ordinary. We had 34 humpback whales, for example, that stranded in 2017. Those of us who study whales are appreciative of the interest from the public in the causes of those strandings, but the numbers we're seeing this year are really no higher than what we've seen over the past decade or so.

Those that end up on shore may be the result of their prey closer to shore because of warming  water. Most of the deaths are the result of boat strikes and entanglement with fishing gear.

We know that the oceans close to shore are warming, and that means that whales and their prey can stay longer in the waters off New York and New Jersey later in the fall, arrive earlier in the spring, and so it's more likely that the whales there that die will come up on the beach. Also, think about the ocean. Water is just outside New York City. They're very busy waters, lots of shipping, so the potential for them to get struck by ships is greater.

We're seeing lots of signals of climate change in the nearshore waters along the East Coast, and that's resulting in changes in distribution of prey, and then the whales track the changes in the distribution of their prey.

It is important to call out disinformation when we become aware of it. In this age of emerging AI, those that traffic in disinformation are acquiring tools to make it much easier to fool both the informed and uniformed among us.

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Jun 4, 2023

Thank you for the post.  Isn't it interesting to read, "Those that end up on shore may be the result of their prey closer to shore because of warming  water. Most of the deaths are the result of boat strikes and entanglement with fishing gear."?

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jun 5, 2023

I sure hope someone is examing these whales to find out the true cause. There have always been boat strikes and that should be pretty clear. Let us know the real cause and then something can be done.  

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 5, 2023

As you suggest, boat strikes are pretty clear and incidents correlate well with shipping activity, though determining whether the ship collision is the cause of death is more problematic. Fishing gear is a different story. Many whales have had encounters with stray rope. When and if they are the cause of any or many whale deaths is much harder to prove, except in rare cases in which they are found drowned and severely tangled in rope.

That humpbacks have chased prey into warming near-shore waters is well established, and also account for higher risk of boat strikes and washing ashore.

It is also well established that whales are unaffected by ordinary, as opposed to military (mostly continuous, intense submarine hunting), sonar surveys for planning placement of offshore wind turbines.  Suggestions to the contrary are pure disinformation. 
Nevertheless, marine sonar surveys for wind turbine placement in New England waters employ “whale spotters” to minimize the risk of interaction with whales via sonar or collisions.

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Jun 9, 2023

I think this proves that the all-consuming desire of some right-wing politicians to own the libs could be harnessed for good. Imagine how great it would be if Marjorie Taylor Greene types started to pursue advanced nuclear with this vigor, just to prove that the libs' preferred renewable options are inferior. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 9, 2023

I doubt MTG would or could ever have any idea what you mean by “advanced nuclear”. Of course, that wouldn’t stop her. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Thank Mark for the Post!
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