Since late 2022, anti-offshore wind groups have weaponized incidents of whales washing ashore on beaches along the East Coast, casting blame for the deaths on the ocean activities of the emerging offshore wind industry. A growing network of anti-offshore wind actors with documented ties to the oil & gas industry has been swift to exploit these tragedies, with local anti-wind groups quickly releasing statements, calling local reporters, and holding press conferences to loudly–and erroneously–blame the beachings on offshore wind. In early 2023, this led to a wave of damaging headlines and news stories that featured little or no mention of evidence from federal officials and scientists that points to other causes for the whale deaths.
In reality, marine scientists have affirmed that there have been no instances of whale deaths that could be credibly linked to U.S. offshore wind development. Experts affirm that the greatest threats to whale populations are vessel strikes from cargo ships, entanglements in shipping gear, offshore oil & gas production, and the impacts from climate change on whales’ habitats and food sources. Meanwhile, the offshore wind industry has been taking important steps to minimize any potential wildlife impacts with mitigation technologies like bubble curtains, speed limits on vessels, halts to construction during whale migration season, and working with protected species observers during construction.
Read on for more context on the truth around offshore wind and marine wildlife, and the networks behind disinformation narratives.
There is no evidence that offshore wind is to blame for whale strandings.
- Federal environmental and energy officials concluded that the spate of whale deaths in January 2023 were caused by vessel strikes and entanglements in fishing gear, and have said there is no evidence of any connection between whale deaths and the activities of the offshore wind industry.
- Proposed offshore wind projects are being designed in a manner that address and promote the conservation of marine mammals and other protected species, showing we don’t need to choose between clean energy and wildlife protection.
- Federal agencies have established new strategies and guidance designed to monitor and protect marine wildlife during offshore wind development.
- The offshore wind sector is currently making one of the largest investments in ocean monitoring and data collection ever undertaken offshore in the Atlantic, while the oil and gas industry is fighting whale protections in the Gulf.
- Offshore wind developers are proactively working to avoid harm to whales using innovative technologies to achieve, or exceed, compliance with regulations under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts, among others. These technologies include sophisticated monitors, infrared thermal underwater cameras and acoustic sensors, and bubble curtains that minimize construction noise.
Many of the anti-offshore wind groups, including groups that claim to support the protection of whales, are being bankrolled or co-opted by the oil and gas industry.
- Research shows dark money groups and fossil fuel lobbyists have been cultivating and supporting networks of astroturf groups in their campaigns against offshore wind development through donations and legal resources for lawsuits meant to slow offshore wind construction.
- Many anti-wind groups that claim to be concerned with environmental protection — including Protect our Oceans NJ, Save Long Beach Island, and ACK for Whales (formerly ACKRATS) — are connected to the Caesar Rodney Institute, a think tank led by David Stevenson (a former member of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team); the Caesar Rodney-backed American Coalition for Ocean Protection, which has a legal arm set up specifically to fight offshore wind projects; the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank that finances efforts to stop clean energy development; and the State Policy Network, a nationwide group of right-wing think tanks that works in close alignment with the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
- Many anti-wind groups claim to be concerned for the welfare of whales but only oppose offshore wind activities, and don’t take positions on activities that are known to be leading causes of whale mortalities including cargo vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, and offshore oil drilling.
The biggest overall cause for increased whale deaths is warming ocean temperatures caused by climate change. Offshore wind is a crucial tool to address climate change by reducing our reliance on climate-heating fossil fuels.
- Warming oceans are changing the migration patterns of whales seeking food in new geographies, often closer to shore. Patterns of movement for multiple species of large whales, including humpback whales, were changing prior to any offshore wind activities, most likely because of ecosystem shifts driven by climate change.
- Climate change is the greatest existential threat to marine wildlife. Studies have shown that the temperature in endangered North Atlantic right whales primary feeding grounds has been above average 92% of the time, and at ‘heatwave’ levels for 55% of the time.
- Large-scale offshore wind generates massive amounts of electricity to power millions of homes without burning climate-heating fossil fuels.
- Globally 40% of all cargo ships are carrying fossil fuels, and the offshore oil & gas industry directly threatens whale species. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels with offshore wind, it will reduce marine vessel traffic, decreasing incidents of vessel strikes on whales.
Updated January 2024