BRIGANTINE, N.J. -- New Jersey's governor said Friday he does not think undersea preparations for offshore wind farms should be halted in response to a recent spate of whale deaths in New Jersey and New York.
Democrat Phil Murphy spoke after lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels called for a temporary pause in ocean floor preparation work for offshore wind projects in New Jersey and New York after another dead whale washed ashore in the area.
Also on Friday, most of New Jersey's environmental groups warned against linking offshore wind work and whale deaths, calling such associations “unfounded and premature."
The death was the seventh in a little over a month. The spate of fatalities prompted an environmental group and some citizens groups opposed to offshore wind to ask President Biden earlier this week for a federal investigation into the deaths.
The latest death Thursday was that of a 20- to 25-foot-long (6- to 7.6-meter-long) humpback whale. Its remains washed ashore in Brigantine, just north of Atlantic City, which itself has seen two dead whales on its beaches in recent weeks.
There was no immediate indication of what caused the latest death. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, based in Brigantine, said it and several other groups were formulating plans Friday for a post-mortem examination of the whale's remains before the animal's carcass is disposed of, most likely through burial on the beach.
“We should suspend all work related to offshore wind development until we can determine the cause of death of these whales, some of which are endangered,” said New Jersey state Sen. Vince Polistina, a Republican who represents the area. “The work related to offshore wind projects is the primary difference in our waters, and it’s hard to believe that the death of (seven) whales on our beaches is just a coincidence.”
Murphy said he does not think pausing offshore wind prep is necessary.
“This is tragic, obviously,” he said.
Murphy cited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which earlier this week said that no humpback whale — the species accounting for most of the recent whale deaths in New Jersey and New York — has been found to have been killed due to offshore wind activities.
“They have said it's been happening at an increased rate since 2016, and that was long before there was any offshore wind activity,” the governor said. “It looks like some of these whales have been hit by vessels.”
Orsted, the Danish wind power developer tabbed to build two of the three offshore wind projects approved thus far in the waters off New Jersey, said its current work off the New Jersey coast does not involve using sounds or other actions that could disturb whales.
It did not say what specific type of work it is doing off New Jersey and did not answer that question in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.
The Clean Ocean Action environmental group said such site work typically involves exploring the ocean floor using focused pulses of low-frequency sound in the same frequency that whales hear and communicate, which could potentially harm or disorient the animals.
Brigantine's mayor, Vince Sera, joined in the call for a temporary halt to offshore wind site prep, as did U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Republican congressman representing southern New Jersey.
At a news conference Monday in Atlantic City, the groups calling on Biden to probe the deaths said offshore wind developers have applied for authorization to harass or harm as many as 157,000 marine mammals off the two states.
NOAA said 11 such applications are active in the area but involve nonserious injuries or harassment of marine animals, not killing them.
“NOAA Fisheries has not authorized, or proposed to authorize, mortality or serious injury for any wind-related action,” agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said.
Most of New Jersey's major environmental groups said this week that they support offshore wind energy.
“The climate crisis demands that we quickly develop renewable energy, and offshore wind is critically important for New Jersey to reach the state’s economic development and environmental justice goals,” the groups said in a statement.
The groups include Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, the Sierra Club, New Jersey Audubon, NY/NJ Baykeeper and others.
“Blaming offshore wind projects on whale mortality without evidence is not only irresponsible but overshadows the very real threats of climate change, plastic pollution, and unsustainable fishery management practices to these animals," said the Sierra Club's New Jersey director, Anjuli Ramos-Busot.
“We need to base our decision making on science and data, not emotions or assumptions,” added Allison McLeod, policy director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
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