Whale Loss of life confusion abounds and a few is intentional

By David Wojick

The press coverage of the tragic whale killer is an excellent study of the confusion, particularly foolish attempts to somehow exonerate offshore wind development. Here are some prominent examples.

The evergreen New York Times wins the race for worst reporting, claiming it has online shopping to blame for the numerous recent whale deaths. I’m not making this up.

Their headline promises an explanation: “Why 23 dead whales have washed up on the east coast since December”. The main reason claimed is that shipping has increased on the East Coast with people buying a lot of stuff post Covid, especially online and ship strikes being responsible for many deaths.

As the NYT puts it: “Pandemic online shopping habits are also fueling a record-breaking surge in cargo shipments that have made the ports of New York and New Jersey the busiest in the nation over the past year. Much of the goods are now transported on much larger ships – some of which have changed their routes to ease the supply chain chaos that left some store shelves empty last year. As a result, more whales appear to have been in the direct path of more ships. “If the whales are in these channels,” said Paul Sieswerda, executive director of Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research group, “you have to keep your fingers crossed and hope there are no collisions.”

This ignores the role offshore winds play in bringing whales into these busy shipping channels.

The problem with this excuse is that ship strikes are a likely cause of death due to offshore wind development. NOAA predicts many hundreds of whales will have been harassed by offshore wind sonar surveys, likely causing many to flee to nearby busy roads. Some are even deaf at this point.

So increasing ship traffic is actually making offshore wind more deadly. The widespread notion that ship attack is an alternative to wind deaths is a complete misconception.

The NYT also says the population of humpback whales has increased along the coast and most of the deaths are humpback whales. But such an increase exposes even more whales to sonar harassment, which in turn makes it deadlier. Also, this ignores the fact that the mortality rate of humpback whales suddenly tripled in 2016, as did the extinction of the right whale when large-scale sonar harassment began.

More typical is the headline from Virginia Mercury, also green: “Wind and Whales: ‘No Evidence’ Linking Projects to Fatalities”. No “Link” is the prevailing mantra.

In reality, the link is staring us in the face. It’s the dozen active, large-scale sonar nuisance projects currently lining the coast from Virginia to Massachusetts. A whale’s response to sonar harassment can easily become deadly. In fact, NOAA’s annoyance potential is calculated based on how many whales are likely to be exposed to unsafe sonar noise levels.

It’s suspiciously odd that no article I’ve seen even mentions these widespread, persistent sonar annoyance numbers. Is this appalling ignorance or a cover-up?

I know of one instance where the scourge of sonar harassment was intentionally left unmentioned. This is stated in several recent articles about whale deaths in USA Today.

Before these articles were written, I had a lengthy correspondence with one of the authors about the threat of death from sonar harassment. The author even said they looked at NOAA’s long list of numerical harassment authorizations. But not a word was said about this quantitative threat in a later article.

Of course, the people at NOAA and BOEM know all about the authorized ongoing harassment of hundreds of whales. They tend to say there is no “direct connection,” meaning the sonar doesn’t kill the whales directly, which is true. The whales are not killed by the sound waves.

But the sonar beams are very likely to kill many whales indirectly, causing things like deafness and deadly behavior. So the Feds are lying by technical omission. News articles then reinforce this deception by using the term “link” more generically.

In truth, the link between sonar harassment and whale death is obvious. This connection needs to be investigated.


David Wojick
David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.

For origins see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html For over 100 previous articles for CFACT see http://www.cfact.org/author/david-wojick-ph-d/

Available for confidential research and advice.


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