Are New Jersey’s Windmill Projects Killing The Whales?

Smith’s January 30, 2023 letters to Biden Administration Secretaries Remain Unanswered

Smith renews call to pause offshore wind projects after nineth dead whale in two months washes ashore in Manasquan

February 14, 2023

TOMS RIVER—Two weeks after urging top Biden Administration officials to immediately suspend all offshore wind projects over growing concerns about recent whale deaths, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Manchester) today renewed his call for a moratorium after the nineth dead whale in two months washed ashore in Manasquan on Monday:

“The Biden Administration and Governor Murphy continue to ignore the resounding calls for an investigation to address the historic surge of dead whales while offshore wind development ramps up off our beaches.

“Local elected officials, environmental leaders and commercial and recreational fishermen are among the strong coalition who continue to raise concerns about the unprecedented spike in whale deaths and the broader impact of offshore wind projects on the marine environment.

            “As I stated in my January 30th letters to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the lack of conclusive evidence disproving the link between offshore wind development and whale deaths is sufficient to require a pause until assurances can be made to the public that the environmental and maritime safety of these projects has been properly reviewed.

            “How many more whales have to die before there is a serious and thorough investigation into the cause of these deaths?”

            Smith has been a longtime advocate for marine wildlife and the broader environmental and economic viability of the Jersey Shore. He has consistently opposed offshore drilling and coauthored legislation in 2019 to ban seismic airgun testing to protect highly endangered North Atlantic right whales and other marine life in the Atlantic Ocean.

UPDATE 2/16/2023 from Allison Ferreira Communications and Internal Affairs Team Supervisor, NOAA, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.

A dead floating humpback whale was reported to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) on Monday, February 13, and it washed ashore at Manasquan Beach that afternoon. On February 14, necropsy teams from MMSC and Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) conducted an initial exam on the beach, then the whale was moved to a Monmouth County facility where a necropsy was conducted. The remains were disposed of in the County landfill. The whale was an approximately 35-foot female. It was identified by Gotham Whale as NYC 0298 and was first seen feeding in the area on January 7, 2023. This was the first and only time this whale was documented. 

The animal was in a state of advanced decomposition, which limited the necropsy. However, tissue samples were taken and will be sent out for analysis. The whale was in good body condition and there were no obvious signs of external trauma. However, the internal examination showed evidence of vessel strike. There is not always obvious external evidence of vessel strikes, which is why internal exams are important. The results of the tissue analysis will help us determine if the vessel strike occurred before or after death. 

Humpback whales are frequent visitors to New Jersey waters, where schools of small bait fish are a good food source. Since December 1, six humpback whales have stranded in New Jersey, and have been examined by stranding teams to help determine cause of death. One additional dead humpback whale was reported floating off NJ in January, but was never seen again. NOAA Fisheries stranding network partners are actively investigating these strandings as part of the humpback whale Unusual Mortality Event that was declared in  2016. That investigation is ongoing, and data from this whale will contribute to understanding of the causes of the UME.

We thank the MMSC and AMSEAS stranding response teams for their rapid response, professionalism, and adaptability as changing circumstances unfolded. We would also like to thank the Monmouth County Department of Public Works and Engineering, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Wall Township, and the Borough of Manasquan for their assistance with moving the whale to the County facility. We also greatly appreciate NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and NJ DEP for their on the ground support for this stranding event. 

There are currently active Seasonal Management Areas off all major ports in the mid-Atlantic region, including the ports of New York/New Jersey, which are in effect through April 30, 2023. All vessels 65 feet or longer must travel at 10 knots or less in these areas. Additionally, there are currently three active voluntary SLOW Zones in effect from Nantucket to Chesapeake Bay. Maintaining speeds of 10 knots or less can help protect all large whales from vessel collisions.

Photos and video by: Ryan Mack, Jersey Shore Fire Response