Licence to Kill: NOAA is lying about whale deaths

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From East Bay RI

Constance Gee

The marine science community knows this much for certain: The high-resolution geophysical (HRG) surveys used to site offshore wind turbines and transmission cabling causes harm and mortality to marine mammals. They know the intense noise of pounding thousands of monopiles deep into the seabed, along with an exponential increase of vessel traffic during construction and for maintenance afterwards will do the same—disturb, injure, and kill marine life.

Here’s the proof: As of mid-March 2023, NOAA Fisheries has handed out 15 marine mammal Incidental Take Authorizations (ITAs) to offshore wind projects from NC to MA. These will allow companies to “take” 111,817 whales, dolphins and seals. The harassment, injury, and killing of marine mammals are referred to as “takes.”

The 111,817 figure is the tally of 118 “Level A” and 111,699 “Level B” takes. Level A includes permanent hearing loss and other bodily injury. Level B harassment includes behavioral disturbance (such as frightening an animal from its normal feeding area) and temporary hearing loss. A deafened whale fleeing into a shipping channel is likely a dead whale.

It is illegal to take any federally listed animal, that is, unless one applies for and is granted an ITA. An “incidental” take is defined as, “an unintentional, but not unexpected taking of a protected species.”

NOAA is in the final stages of approving an additional 1,272 Level A and 477,285 Level B takes of marine mammals for another 11 wind projects. Soon the approved ITA count will permit wind companies to disturb, injure or cause the death of 590,374 marine mammals. These figures were compiled by carefully searching 26 individual wind project ITA requests. NOAA either does not have or will not share cumulative take numbers.

The data reveals that NOAA has either granted or is in the final stages of granting Level B takes for 915 critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only 334 remaining animals alive. Either this means NOAA and the wind companies expect repeated harassment (including recurrent hearing impairment) of numerous right whales, or they have not taken the trouble to realize they have granted more “takes” than the number of live whales who exist today.

A total of 387 A and 21,704 B takes have been or are close to being approved for whales. These numbers include the taking of five species of endangered whales. For eight dolphin species A takes total 140; B takes total 474,605. A takes total 658 for harbor porpoise; B takes total 24,122 porpoises. A takes total 205 harbor, grey, and harp seals; B takes total 68,553 seals.

The numbers of “not unexpected” harassment and injury of marine mammals are staggering.

NOAA states in its February posting of Sunrise Wind’s ITA request (NOAA-NMFS-2023-0012): “Project activities likely to result in incidental take include pile driving…and vessel-based site assessment surveys using HRG equipment.”

Still NOAA has only one answer to the question being asked by thousands of coastal residents as to whether wind companies’ recent seismic testing might be related to the highly unusual number of whale strandings: NO.

Why are they lying?