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Dr. Bradley Stevens is a professor emeritus of marine science at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. He has conducted research and published numerous articles on fish habitats, impacts of fishing and seafloor ecosystems in the Maryland wind energy area.
Recent strandings of whales along the East Coast of the United States have generated a lot of alarm and misinformation concerning the cause of mortality.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration investigated the recent deaths of humpback and minke whales and concluded they were the result of ship strikes. Even so, some “dark money” groups (actually funded by the fossil fuel industry) have claimed that whale mortalities were somehow associated with wind turbines. When such arguments come from groups with names like “Clean Ocean Action,” it makes them appear to be legitimate, when, in fact, they are not supported by any actual data.
Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland and Rick Meehan, the mayor of Ocean City, Maryland, have jumped on that bandwagon, calling for a moratorium on wind turbine construction in the area.
All of this drama is occurring despite the fact that no wind turbines have been built in the area, and surveying activities have not been conducted since spring 2022.
To set the record straight, here are some actual verifiable facts:
In fact, the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that offshore wind turbines have a net positive impact on marine ecosystems. The coastal seafloor is mostly bare sand and mud, with little habitat for fish. Wind turbines attract fouling organisms and small fish, which, in turn, feed larger fish. Fish such as black sea bass and tautog need vertical structure for shelter. And many pelagic fish like tuna are attracted to large ocean structures just because they are there. And, by providing refuge from ship traffic, noise and traplines, turbine farms may actually help whale populations recover.
So there you have it. According to the best evidence available, whales are killed by ship strikes and entanglement with fishing gear but not by wind turbines. And operational noise levels from turbines are a nonissue.
So what can we do to prevent whale mortalities?
A variety of mitigation efforts are already underway. These include rerouting ship traffic to stay clear of whale migration routes and enforcing slow speeds in areas where ships and whales cross pathways. Major research efforts are underway to develop whale-safe fishing gear, such as ropeless traps that do not require buoy lines.
If Rep. Harris and other legislators really want to help, they should ask for increases in funds to develop whale-safe fishing gear. That would have the greatest impact on reducing human-caused whale deaths than any other solution.