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Whales a weapon against offshore wind

Posted on September 5, 2023

The phrase “save the whales!” — used by opponents of renewable energy — has been weaponized to baselessly tie New Jersey’s offshore wind development to the unusual mortality event (UME) impacting marine life. Republicans have used this event as a political prop.

Federal agencies and outside experts have noted that the heightened spate of strandings is likely due to factors such as vessel strikes, commercial fishing gear entanglement, and even climate change. As the independent Marine Mammal Commission noted, “although these Strandings have generated media interest and public scrutiny, this is not an unusually large number of whales to strand during winter.”

Opponents seem to want to shut down offshore wind farms before they can even be completed — which would harm the ability to fight climate change. Elected leaders, specifically Republican Reps. Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith, have jumped on the chance to point the blame. At one Save the Whales rally, Van Drew called the UME “a divine blessing from God.” He’s hoping to advance his own political agenda.

In typical D.C. fashion, his decision-making on policy is also significantly hypocritical. He wants to save the whales, but in recent days signed onto legislation that would prohibit funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for finalizing a rule intended to protect whales from vessel strikes.

Having worked as a professor of marine transportation for 15 years, I have written about how development of clean energy will help, not hurt, endangered whale populations by mitigating the single largest threat to their long-term existence: climate change. Rising ocean temperatures and severe weather events due to climate change are expected to severely decrease whale populations by the end of the century by damaging their breeding habitat and reducing krill populations. The offshore wind projects will offset carbon emissions.

The next time you hear about politicians being in an uproar over a topic, try to determine who is encouraging them to care so much. Let’s stick to the actual marine science, not the political science, to understand and address the UME.


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