In the past two months more than 10 large whale standings have occurred in the New York/New Jersey area. Some claim it is the sonar from the offshore wind survey vessels that confuses whales and has them running into ships, causing ship strikes, whale mortality and then they wash ashore dead.
I believe it is not sonar causing whale strikes but rather it is more likely a climate change impact.
According to a NOAA study of 2016–2023 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event Along the Atlantic Coast | NOAA Fisheries, since 2016 there have been 178 humpback deaths, which is an elevated rate. However, the NOAA study shows a larger number of strandings taking place from 2016 to 2019, when less survey work was being done.
Capt. John McMurray, a New York charter captain, wrote an article, titled “Offshore wind and dead whales,” that appeared Feb., 2, 2023, in Salt Water Sportsman.
McMurray said, “The sonar power used by offshore-wind survey crews is not even close to the same as the Navy’s. It’s a completely different technology designed specifically to avoid adverse effects on marine life. And it’s been used all over the world without any significant harm to marine mammals. The folks at NOAA have been quick to point out that wind energy surveyors are prohibited from using levels of sonar loud enough to be fatal to marine life … currently no information that would support the contention that any of the data collection equipment being used could lead to the death of a whale.”
On NOAA’s website at Frequent Questions—Offshore Wind and Whales | NOAA Fisheries they say, “There is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales. There are no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys for offshore wind development.”
Capt. McMurray said for the past three years there has been an abundance of Atlantic menhaden close to shore, which is bringing whales close to shore, where there is more vessels traffic and therefore more vessel strikes.
Capt. Paul Eidman of New Jersey also fishes coastal waters with his charter customers. Eidman said in a Jan. 16 article in the New Jersey Star Ledger, “As a professional captain and owner-operator of a recreational fishing charter business in New Jersey, my clients and I are often lucky to come across whales, dolphins, turtles, and other marine life … We know climate change and warming waters are worsening the whales’ ecosystems. These changes in forage prey abundance and location in our region, unfortunately, intersect with shipping lanes leading into one of the busiest ports in the world.”
Capt. Chris Willi of Block Island Fish Works, R.I., a fishing tackle shop and charter, said, “We have experienced a change in bait profiles around Block Island. We now have an abundance of all types of baits, all at the same time ... a variety of herring and mackerel, sand ells, squid, peanut bunker, etc., all here in our waters and along the northeast coastline. They are here bringing fish and mammals close to shore, including tuna, mahi, whales of all types, porpoise and more.”
The University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography Baird Symposium this summer focused on “Climate impacts of recreational fishing and boating.”
Overwhelmingly anglers, charter captains and scientists, such as Dr. Jon Hare, NOAA Fisheries top scientist, related that warming water has brought new and abundant bait profiles into the region. They said these abundant bait profiles have brought fish and mammals closer to shore.
For example, 30 giant bluefin tuna were caught off the cost of Newport and Narragansett, R.I. two miles from shore on one day, Sept. 11, 2022. We are seeing a greater abundance of warm water fish like black sea bass, scup, even exotic warm water fish like cobia being caught in our waters, with cold water fish like American lobster leaving for deeper/colder water.
On Jan. 18, 2023, 30 right whales were spotted feeding on high concentrations of zooplankton on the surface in Cape Cod Bay, which has not occurred in winter before, forcing Massachusetts to engage a mandatory speed zone in the area early.
I believe the food is closer to shore and many different species are chasing that food. This includes humpback whales — more food, more whales, more ship strikes.
Thanks to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which regulates offshore wind farm development, and NOAA, sonar used by the offshore wind industry is designed and implemented to avoid harm to mammals. Additionally, they are required to have look-outs on the survey vessels to protect large mammals, and if a whale comes too close, survey work is halted.
I am not a scientist but do believe if a whale was under a survey vessel it could get pinged with the sonar. However, I equate it to standing in front of a speaker at a rock concert. Once the speaker comes on you move away to a place that is more comfortable. The impact, if any, is only temporary.
We always need to be diligent and safeguard natural resources so no unintended harm occurs to fish, mammals and habitat. Offshore wind farms need to be developed responsibly with fish, mammal and habitat research conducted before, during and after construction, to measure any negative or positive impacts. Key leanings should be applied to future developments.
It’s not offshore wind industry survey vessels creating whale strikes and strandings. It’s a climate change impact.
Atlantic seafood for food banks
Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Representatives William Keating (MA-09) and Seth Moulton (MA-06) last Wednesday applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement sharing its intent to buy Atlantic haddock, pollock, and perch as part of a $1 billion purchase for emergency food providers through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).
These purchases will help East Coast seafood producers while providing American families in need with healthy, domestic and sustainable seafood products.
Where’s the bite?
Freshwater fishing is often a more angler friendly alternative as cold, high winds and seas often plague salt water fishers this time of year. For licenses and trout/salmon waterway stocking information in Rhode Island visit www.dem.ri.gov/fishing, and in Massachusetts www.mass.gov/service-details/trout-stocking-report .
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and charter fishing license. He serves on a variety of boards and commissions and has a consulting business focusing on clean oceans, habitat preservation, conservation, renewable energy, and fisheries related issues and clients. Forward fishing news and photos to email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com.