Federal and state officials: Nothing connects recent deaths of whales to offshore wind industry

The death of a 35-foot humpback whale that washed up on a beach in Manasquan on Monday, the ninth such stranding on the New Jersey and New York coastline in the past two months, is cause for concern and alarm.

No one understands why it is happening.

But is it a reason to stop — or even slow — the state’s plan for a vibrant offshore wind industry?

At this point, the answer remains a firm “No” for one simple reason — there is nothing that connects the death of the whales to the offshore wind industry, which has not begun any meaningful construction in the ocean, according to state and national officials.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — a scientific and regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that forecasts weather, monitors oceanic and atmospheric conditions, charts the seas, conducts deep sea exploration, and manages fishing and protection of marine mammals and endangered species in the U.S. — recently said as much.

“At this point, there is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales,” it said in a recent release. “There are no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys for offshore wind development.”

Officials in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration — speaking on a day the governor is announcing numerous executive orders pertaining to energy and the environment — agreed.

“As the Murphy administration advances its bold offshore wind development goals, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will continue to coordinate with NOAA to diligently monitor whale strandings on our shores,” spokesperson Bailey Lawrence said.

The recent deaths have caused numerous groups to call for a shutdown of the offshore wind industry. The groups, however, have not provided any evidence that the industry is in any way connected to the fatalities.

Lawrence said the state is taking all necessary precautions to protect the ocean ecosystem.

“In partnership with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the DEP is engaged in projects to ensure that offshore wind development is done responsibly and with minimal impacts to the ocean ecosystem and wildlife, including marine mammals,” he said. “The Offshore Wind Research & Monitoring Initiative is a collaborative effort between the DEP and the BPU that is working to coordinate and expand research into impacts of offshore wind development on wildlife and fisheries.”