The United States has seen a surge of concern along its Atlantic coastline, where an alarming increase in whale strandings has sparked a contentious debate. At the forefront of this discussion is a provocative claim by former President Donald Trump, who stated:
Windmills are causing whales to die in numbers never seen before. No one does anything about that…The windmills are driving them crazy. They are driving the whales, I think, a little batty. – Trump at South Carolina Rally
These remarks have intensified the scrutiny on offshore wind turbines, with some conservation groups and members of the public echoing Trump’s concerns. Central to this discussion are assertions, notably by former President Donald Trump and supported by some conservation groups, that offshore wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of these majestic marine mammals.
Scrutinizing the Claims
Trump’s claims during a rally, suggesting that wind turbines were leading whales to “wash up ashore” and become disoriented, have fueled protests and demands for a halt to wind farm developments. These concerns gained momentum with at least 10 whale deaths in New York and New Jersey early in 2023, leading to public outcry and the slogan “Save the whales – pause wind farms.”
Expert Insights and Analyses
Despite these claims, a comprehensive review by experts and authoritative sources, including FactCheck.org, reveals that it is highly improbable that offshore wind turbines are negatively affecting marine wildlife.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has documented an unusually high number of whale deaths, but this phenomenon predates the significant construction of offshore wind farms that began after President Joe Biden’s election in 2020.
Although environmentalists and groups like Clean Ocean Action have voiced concerns about the potential harm caused by noise from turbine construction, there is no conclusive evidence to support a direct link between wind farms and the spike in whale strandings.
Boat Strikes are Huge Issue For Whales
A recent study has attributed the increase in North Atlantic right whale fatalities primarily to collisions with fast-moving cargo ships and other large vessels, identifying the ports of New Jersey and New York as having the highest number of violations in slow zones along the Atlantic Coast.
During the same speech, Trump commented “This is supposedly in the name of preventing whale strikes. But you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than hitting a whale with your boat.”
The research, conducted by Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation advocacy organization, revealed that during a two-year period, 84% of vessels measuring 65 feet or longer exceeded speed limits in mandatory seasonal slow zones designed to protect whales during their migration and feeding times. Additionally, 82% of ships disregarded speed restrictions in voluntary, temporary slow zones established in response to actual whale sightings.
“Time and time again we see what happens when speeding boats and right whales collide,” Gib Brogan, Oceana’s campaign director, said in a statement. “Even one human-caused death is too many for this population to sustain. If NOAA wants to save this species from extinction, ships must slow down when these whales are present, and speeding boats must be held accountable. Time is of the essence before North Atlantic right whales reach the point of no return.”
Diving Deeper into the Data
Further investigations into the cause of death for 178 humpback whales over the last four years showed that 40% died due to ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear, with no evidence pointing towards wind farms. Organizations such as Greenpeace have labeled the accusations against wind turbines as baseless, highlighting the myriad threats facing the oceans and marine life, including the overarching peril of climate change, which significantly impacts whale populations by disrupting their food sources and habitats.
Proactive Measures and Forward-Looking Strategies
In light of the absence of evidence linking wind turbines to whale deaths, ongoing research and protective measures are being implemented. Offshore wind developers are adopting strategies to mitigate potential impacts on marine life, such as restricting construction activities during whale migration seasons and utilizing noise-reducing technologies like bubble curtains. These initiatives, coupled with stringent federal guidelines on underwater sound, aim to safeguard marine ecosystems while supporting the advancement of renewable energy sources.
Navigating Beyond the Controversy
The debate over wind turbines and whale deaths underscores the need for a balanced approach that addresses genuine environmental concerns while advancing sustainable energy solutions. As the discussion evolves, it is crucial to focus on evidence-based conclusions and the broader challenges facing marine life, ensuring that efforts to combat climate change do not inadvertently harm the very ecosystems they aim to protect.