As dead whales continue to wash ashore on Delmarva, elsewhere, questions are also mounting
This article was updated at 4:13 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 to include the latest incidents along the East Coast.
As more dead whales have washed ashore along the East Coast, the calls for moratoriums on wind energy programs have also grown louder.
The most recent incidents include a right whale — one of only an estimated 340 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world — was found dead in Virginia Beach on Sunday. The 43-foot-long, 20-year-old whale suffered multiple vertebral fractures and separations from a likely ship strike that would have resulted in death shortly after the injury.
The second whale, a humpback found in Manasquan, New Jersey on Monday, was a 35-foot female in an advanced state of decomposition. Although no outward evidence of a vessel strike was seen, an exam showed internal injuries. NOAA stated a tissue analysis should determine whether the vessel strike occurred before or after death.
Incidents included an adolescent humpback whale on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Friday afternoon, Feb. 10, that washed ashore at the mouth of Plantation Creek near Bay Creek. According to reporting by USA Today, at least 14 whales have washed ashore along the East Coast since Dec. 1, 2022, and some have blamed the whale deaths on seismic testing being done to construct offshore wind turbines. Yet longtime whale advocacy groups don't agree.
Both whales, a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and a humpback, were already beginning to decompose, but preliminary results show internal injuries consistent with the blunt force trauma of a vessel strike, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.
A dead humpback whale was also found floating in the waters off Virginia Beach, near Lynnhaven Beach, on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team, as in all similar instances, coordinated with the Virginia Beach Police Marine Patrol to track down the whale’s specific location.
UPDATE: NOAA says Virginia Beach dead whale likely hit by boat
A full necropsy is conducted in all cases of dead whales found along the Delmarva Peninsula.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains there are no documented cases of whale deaths linked to offshore wind projects and no evidence of whales being injured due to the seafloor probing developers have been doing to identify cable corridors or other wind energy activity.
IN MARYLAND: 'Vessel Strike' likely cause of recent Assateague Island whale death
Maryland also had a recent carcass of a 33.8-foot humpback whale wash ashore at Assateague Island National Seashore.
"We are in the middle of an unusual ongoing (whale) mortality event since 2016 that is specific to the humpback whales. While elevated, we have also had an elevated mortality rate for humpback whales to date. We've also seen similar cases for the North Atlantic right whales also," said Sarah Wilkin, coordinator of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, Fisheries Office of Protected Resources in a news conference earlier this month.
Whale deaths a political football?
Benjamin Laws, deputy chief for NOAA's Permits and Conservation Division, Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, quickly stifled speculation that preliminary offshore wind seafloor scanning and development is to blame for the spike of recent whale deaths along the East Coast.
Yet that has not stopped longtime detractors of offshore wind from crying foul and demanding a federal moratorium on such development.
A Jan. 30 letter signed by 12 New Jersey mayors and Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, called for such a moratium, a move also backed by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md-1st.
More on federal oppositionHow does wind energy affect marine mammals, fish and birds? New studies seek to find out
"Following the death of yet another whale, this time on Assateague Island, I am calling for an immediate moratorium on windmill construction and related underwater geotechnical testing until it is definitively proven that this construction and testing are not the cause of the repeated whale deaths," Harris said. "NOAA has offered zero evidence that this construction, including geotechnical testing, is not the cause of death.
"I am also calling for a full and transparent release of necropsy results, including the necropsy results of the whale ear structures which should be removed for examination to determine whether sonar actively contributed to the cause of death," Harris said in a January statement.
Yet activists looking to bolster the case of offshore wind development claim opponents are using the whale death events to sway the conversation back to fossil fuels.
This article originally appeared on Salisbury Daily Times: Questions on wind energy rise as dead whales continue to wash ashore