Whale deaths spark questions about New Jersey wind farm development

As environmentalists and opponents of offshore wind call for a federal probe into numerous whale deaths in the area, another whale washed ashore in Brigantine, New Jersey. 

According to Brigantine officials, a 32-foot juvenile female whale washed up about half a mile from the United States Coast Guard station in the area on Thursday afternoon. 

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center says a necropsy will be performed after the agency met with NOAA Fisheries and the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network. 

Samples from the whale will be sent to pathologists and researchers to investigate the cause of death. 

The death was the seventh in a little over a month. The spate of fatalities prompted an environmental group and some citizens groups opposed to offshore wind to ask President Biden earlier this week for a federal investigation into the deaths.

"We should suspend all work related to offshore wind development until we can determine the cause of death of these whales, some of which are endangered," said New Jersey state Sen. Vince Polistina, a Republican who represents the area. "The work related to offshore wind projects is the primary difference in our waters, and it’s hard to believe that the death of (seven) whales on our beaches is just a coincidence."

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection referred a request for comment to the governor's office, which did not respond Friday.

Earlier in the week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that, to date, no humpback whale — the species accounting for most of the recent whale deaths in New Jersey and New York — has been found to have been killed due to offshore wind activities.


Orsted, the Danish wind power developer tabbed to build two of the three offshore wind projects approved thus far in the waters off New Jersey, said its current work off the New Jersey coast does not involve using sounds or other actions that could disturb whales.

It did not say precisely what type of work it is currently doing. The company did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The Clean Ocean Action environmental group said such site work typically involves exploring the ocean floor using focused pulses of low-frequency sound in the same frequency that whales hear and communicate, which could potentially harm or disorient the animals.

Brigantine's mayor, Vince Sera, joined in the call for a temporary halt to offshore wind site prep, as did U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Republican congressman representing southern New Jersey.

At a news conference Monday in Atlantic City, the groups calling on Biden to probe the deaths said offshore wind developers have applied for authorization to harass or harm as many as 157,000 marine mammals off the two states.

NOAA said 11 such applications are active in the area but involve nonserious injuries or harassment of marine animals, not killing them.

"NOAA Fisheries has not authorized, or proposed to authorize, mortality or serious injury for any wind-related action," agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said.

Most of New Jersey's major environmental groups said this week that they support offshore wind energy.

"The climate crisis demands that we quickly develop renewable energy, and offshore wind is critically important for New Jersey to reach the state’s economic development and environmental justice goals," the groups said in a statement.

The groups include Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, the Sierra Club, New Jersey Audubon, NY/NJ Baykeeper and others.

"Blaming offshore wind projects on whale mortality without evidence is not only irresponsible but overshadows the very real threats of climate change, plastic pollution, and unsustainable fishery management practices to these animals," said the Sierra Club's New Jersey director, Anjuli Ramos-Busot.

"We need to base our decision-making on science and data, not emotions or assumptions," added Allison McLeod, policy director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.


The Associated Press's Wayne Parry contributed to this story.