Mysterious Whale Deaths Continue on the US East Coast, Experts Weigh In in Increasing Toll
Environmentalists and local authorities are investigating the unsolved whale deaths on the US east coast. There have been 14 deaths reported as of December 2022.
Some are attributing the fatalities to the construction of an offshore wind farm nearby. But according to officials, there is no proof that wind farms are to blame.
6 Years, 178 Whale Deaths
They have been monitoring the “unusual mortality” of humpback whales on the eastern shores since 2016.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recorded 178 dead humpback whales from Florida to Maine over the previous six years.
About half of the whales had necropsies done, and of those, 40% had been killed by human interaction, either by being caught in fishing gear or being hit by vessels. Additionally, dead sperm whales, which are listed as an endangered species, have been discovered along eastern coasts.
On September 2022, The Boston Herald reported that whale rescuers were able to free a young humpback whale that had become seriously entangled in fishing equipment outside Boston Harbor. Although this particular whale was fortunate enough, it highlighted that fishing gear has been getting sea animals, big or small.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NOAA officials held a press conference in response to the most recent death of a humpback whale, which washed up on the shores of Maryland on January 16. There were growing concerns that a nearby wind farm development was to blame.
According to Benjamin Laws, the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources deputy chief for permits and conservation, there is no proof that any of the machinery used to aid offshore wind development could cause a whale to perish.
He said that there are no known links between whale strandings and offshore wind projects.
Also Read: Endangered Sperm Whale Carcass with Large Gashes Found in Oregon Shores, Officials Say Starving Before Death
Menhaden and Ships
Federal officials and regional experts said that several factors could be causing a rise in whale beaching along the mid-Atlantic coast. They observed that the number of humpback whales has grown and that more of them are migrating into New York and New Jersey in pursuit of menhaden, a fish the whales eat.
According to the New York Harbor Channel, forage fish like menhaden are crucial to the ocean food chain. Unfortunately, every larger fish and marine animal that lives in the sea south and east of New York Harbor, known as the New York Bight, depend on menhaden to survive.
Menhaden swim in a region where a main freight shipping route into the ports of New York and New Jersey exists, which may increase their risk of being struck by a ship.
Additionally, as whales follow their prey or migrate to waters with better conditions, climate change and warming oceans can affect their migration patterns, according to Lauren Gaches, NOAA Fisheries director of public affairs.
Although there have been elevated levels of large whale strandings for several years, according to Sarah Wilkin, the coordinator of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, they are still particularly worried about the increase over the past six weeks or so.
According to officials, there are many regulations that federal law requires offshore wind energy vessels to follow in order to avoid whales as well as other marine mammals.
One prerequisite is the presence of observers whose sole responsibility is to keep an eye out for marine mammals.
Survey Work on the Ocean Floor
The majority of the current survey work being done for the wind farm examines the ocean floor to determine whether it is suitable for installing cables and future wind turbines. According to Brian Hooker, BOEM’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs head of a biology team, it is not known to cause serious harm to whales.
The use of sonar equipment loud enough to kill whales and other marine life is prohibited, so laws also refuted the claim that it was harming animals. Sonar equipment is used by wind companies to map the ocean floor.
A local campaign group called Clean Ocean Action has demanded an investigation into the unexpected whale deaths, BBC News reports.
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