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Are Whales Dying Due To Offshore Wind Farms?

Wind farms come with a plethora of benefits, but are they at the cost of marine life?

by Febin
Wind farms have come under scrutiny for its supposed role in whale deaths

Wind farms are a group of wind turbines installed in the exact location to produce electricity. They are considered an efficient, sustainable energy source as they require no fuel. However, certain events and theories have caused uproar regarding its environmental effects.

Wind farms and whale deaths: a significant threat or hoax?

The unfortunate spike in whale deaths in recent months has led many conservatives, especially former President Donald Trump, to claim that the construction of offshore wind turbines is killing the giant mammals. Such a statement had also been made and spread despite no scientific evidence as well. Thus, the theory can be seen as one of political and personal motives. However, the question now arises of what causes whale deaths.

Wind farms are said to form artificial reefs that enhance biodiversity

Wind farms are said to form artificial reefs that enhance biodiversity

Image credits: Pixabay

Wind farms and their influence on marine ecosystems

The creation of artificial reefs has been primarily seen as the major positive outcome of wind farms on marine life. Wind turbine foundations have hard surfaces that form those reefs, which provide new habitats and thus contribute to increased biodiversity. These reefs create an environment for organisms to find shelter, feed, and reproduce. On the downside, though, the construction of wind farms results in several temporary disturbances. Those disturbances result in noise pollution, which causes severe disturbances to the species.

It must be noted that the impacts of wind farms on marine life are minimal once the construction phase is over and it starts to operate. The research on this issue continues, and further results can only be established once studies are conducted. The following report by researcher Thomas Dahlgren gives us an overview of his study on the impacts of marine life on wind farms, where he ultimately concludes that more knowledge is needed about how several wind farms affect marine ecosystems.

Whale deaths have been an unfortunate victim of political misinformation

Whale deaths have been an unfortunate victim of political misinformation

Credits: Pixabay

The unfortunate factors behind whale deaths

The following study debunks the myth that wind farms are directly linked to whale deaths and provides us with certain factors causing whale deaths. Human activities remain the primary suspect, as incidents of shipping collisions and entanglement in fishing gear are some of the biggest threats, according to scientists and federal authorities. It has also been reported that underwater noise pollution might have a role to play in whale deaths.

Another reason for whale deaths has come as a result of climate change. Scientists have confirmed that global warming has led the whale’s preferred prey ( tiny crustaceans) to shift their habitats. The shift of prey has led to whales moving from their protected areas in the ocean to search for food. However, the whale migration comes at the enormous cost of being vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglements.

Risks and mitigations of wind farming and marine mammal mortality

A study by NOAA confirmed that wind farm projects pose potential risks to whales, including those associated with increased noise, vessel traffic, and entanglement. Thus, plans and efforts have been taken to mitigate them. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects both whales and other marine species. For those who want to conduct acoustic surveys or do any activity other than fishing that could potentially disturb or harm marine mammals, wind operators and others need to get incidental take authorization.

In regards to wind farms, the primary concern for the Marine Mammal Protection Act is defined on two levels: Level A, which means the activities have the potential to produce a non-serious injury to marine mammals, and Level B, which means the work has the potential to create a behavioural disturbance. Other protective measures that are carried out include slow zones for vessels to avoid collisions (less than 10 knots, or 11.5 miles per hour) and exclusion areas, places where surveys are not allowed to occur for certain periods.

It is also mandatory for operators to employ at least one independent protected species observer on duty at all times during the day and at least two at night to detect protected species and avoid any contact. Ultimately, all policies are carried out with an emphasis on mitigating the impact of wind farm construction on marine life and reversing the drastic effects of climate change.

Way ahead

In a world where certain groups are bound to fight till the end in their quest for power, the conundrum of wind farms and whale deaths is certain to continue for the foreseeable future. 

The ongoing research in the field and lack of definite accurate information regarding certain scientific aspects make it a subject that various interest groups can easily manipulate. Further breakthroughs from current investigations would eventually bring an end to all theories.

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