Gopal Having a Whale of a Time with Dnistrian in LD-11

Whale deaths have been on the rise off the coast of New Jersey and, as yet, no one is exactly sure why.  Forbes had cited the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, stating that 2023 had seen the largest number of humpback whale deaths in 21 years and the Center is investigating.  Further, in 2023, some 29 humpback whales had been reported as beached on the East Coast, with eight of them in New Jersey. 

Politically, the subject is divisive.  In New Jersey, the issue of off-shore wind is in the crosshairs of both parties: mistrust, coupled with emotion and uncertainty, have given the topic all the murky clarity of the Jersey shore waters as a political talking point.  All the while, some environmentalists lament that concrete, definitive whale protection policies are being ignored while the hypothetical garner all the attention. 

Whales are, in general, threatened, with populations only starting to rebound after decades of near cataclysmic decline from commercial fishing (whaling), collisions with ships, and environmental threats.  A number of Republicans, including State Senator Vin Gopal’s challenger, Steve Dnistrian, have called for a pause—at least a temporary one—on sonar mapping and off-shore wind which they claim may be responsible for the uptick in whale deaths. 

State Senator Vin Gopal has voted “no” with respect to the Orsted Ocean Wind Turbine project and called for an investigation on costs and the potential environmental impact of the project. 

Journalist Matt Friedman Tweeted a picture of Gopal’s newsletter on the issue, which partially reads, “The Wind Turbine project, although it presents a potential renewable energy source, has brought to the forefront potential environmental concerns. We have some unknowns as it pertains to environmental impact outside of being an energy source and I would like to take a pause so we can thoroughly explore what that may be.” 

Steve Dnistrian, who is the Republican challenger seeking to unseat Gopal, had tweeted an attack on Gopal this month after another humpback whale was beached in New Jersey. “A dead whale washes up in Long Branch, home of @vingopal, and yet he still dismisses ANY POSSIBLE tie between sonar mapping + dead mammals. Here, he calls advocates and others ‘conspiracy theorists.’ Non-expert, self-righteousness won’t help. Indep research + moratorium now!!” 

The Republican State Legislative Committee released a statement attacking Gopal Wednesday following the Friedman tweet for breaking ranks with other Democrats on the issue, calling him a hypocrite. “You can’t make this up. Just weeks after calling anyone who opposes offshore wind projects in New Jersey due to potential whale and dolphin deaths ‘conspiracy theorists,’ Vin Gopal is now calling for an investigation into the impact of offshore wind,” the RSLC said. “This is in complete contradiction from a recent interview Gopal gave on News 12 NJ’s Power & Politics where he said anyone who suggests offshore winds are causing whales to wash up on New Jersey beaches are ‘conspiracy theorists’.” 

Gopal, however, rejected the Republican attacks.  Speaking to InsiderNJ, Gopal said, “Nowhere in that article does it say anything about whales and dolphins. I’ve been consistent since day one that I voted against the Orsted bill because I’m concerned about costs, ratepayers, and the quality of mammal and fish life when the things are actually being constructed. That is different than these whales and dolphins that have been dying since 2016, well before any of the offshore winds even started. Since none of the necropsies have shown that it’s related to offshore wind, most, if not all, have been related to boat and shipping deaths, so there’s been nothing that’s inconsistent.” 

The incumbent acknowledged that he was the only member of his party to dissent on the Orsted bill.  “I was the only Democrat to vote against it because I’m concerned about the cost long-term,” Gopal said. “We need to address the ratepayer costs, but at the same time, those running around saying that it’s killing whales and dolphins are being dishonest with the public.” 

The Millennial senator continued with his financial concerns about the Orsted project and asserted that Republicans have attempted to twist what he has said to apply it to marine life.  “I have been concerned about the cost to offshore wind. Orsted made $4.4 billion in record profits. They made a deal where that half a billion was to go back to ratepayers but that did not happen. I’m concerned about the long-term costs to ratepayers as well as site, vision, and actual construction when it happens. The Republicans, or at least my opposition, have continued to talk about how this has to do with whales and dolphins dying yet they have no evidence or proof on that. They’re misleading people and they’re politicizing it. My positions are not different except I’m basing my position on facts, data, and science, and they are positioning theirs on just trying to divide people over misinformation.” 

Environmental advocate and activist Jeff Tittel spoke with InsiderNJ on the subject of whale deaths.  For Tittel, the issue has been politicized, but there have been failings on both sides.  Democrats and Republicans alike, he said, have dropped the ball—the former on messaging and the latter on policy. 

When discussing some of the wind companies involved, Tittel said that preliminary off-shore wind environmental impact investigations should have been carried out by independent, third-party entities, with those findings made public right from the start. Tittel said, “If they did that going in, we wouldn’t have all these problems now. This was their own arrogance in the beginning, setting it up, so that people would just blame all the whale deaths on wind when there really is no direct proof of any kind. There is a lot of evidence that, where they have done the necropsies, that being hit by ships is a major reason [for whale deaths].” 

Tittel said that fishing and lobster gear out at sea is another, proven cause of whale deaths.  Whales that consume long lines get the gear caught inside their organs and die.  “My point is that one side is attacking and saying it’s all about wind, they can’t prove it. But I think that people who are pro-wind made a serious mistake when they did not say they would have independent research done to put that issue to rest.” 

Other issues which are not necessarily hypotheticals have also rubbed Tittel and environmentalists the wrong way on the wind-and-whale debate.  The behavior of the wind firms, Tittel said, has been contentious among shore communities.  “Down in Ocean City, when the people originally were saying ‘we’re not sure we want to see the windmills, can they be moved from 10 miles to 15 miles out?’ They said ‘no.’  That raised people’s ire and concern, and also when they start taking Green Acres land for the cables that come on shore.” 

The failure of the pro-wind camp to establish a grassroots support base with a transparent operation, Tittel said, opened them up to attacks such as those launched by Republicans. “Their kind of arrogance, and just blowing off criticism, or people having different opinions, has completely undermined them with a lot of the public. I think that’s a big part of the problem that people like Vin are now facing.” 

The Republicans, however, did not escape Tittel’s wrath.  The GOP, he said, has been riding the “Save the Whales” line as a matter of political expedience—nobody likes when whales wash up dead, be they left-wing or right-wing.  But, he said, the Republicans have failed to move on actual policies that would, in fact, protect whales from known threats to their well-being, rather than simply trying to halt off-shore wind as a possible whale hazard.   

“Jeff Van Drew, Chris Smith, and Republican legislators are all out there, touting that they want to protect the whales, especially the right whales,” Tittel said.  “If you go down to LBI you will see, ‘Save the Whales’.  But right now, in Congress, there is a markup to block the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from regulating the speed limits and boat sizes that would be off the coast of New Jersey. Three years ago, NOAA proposed rules that would slow boats down to 10 miles an hour during the whale season, November to April, and would regulate all boats down to 35 feet.  Right now only boats over 65 feet are regulated.  So, these Republicans and candidates are down there and suddenly people are talking about saving the whales. Yet the Republicans are pushing this amendment in the budget that would block NOAA from protecting whales.” 

Tittel referred to HR 4323 – Protecting Whales, Human Safety and the Economy Act of 2023 sponsored by Republican Congressman Earl “Buddy” Carter of Georgia.  Congressman Van Drew is a co-sponsor. 

“If there is a problem,” Tittel said, “I’ll be blunt–maybe environmentalists will be mad at me—I think we should do studies to make sure that what’s been going on so far hasn’t had an impact on whales. But I am concerned when we start building the windmills off the coast that there could be an impact, and we need to make sure. But I just find that the issue of the whales has become a political football and, meanwhile, we’re not doing what we could do to actually protect the whales.” 

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5 responses to “Gopal Having a Whale of a Time with Dnistrian in LD-11”

  1. Jeff Tittel talks out of both sides of his mouth. He is trying to placate Democrats for wrong-messaging, but attacking Republicans for policy issues, or his view about the lack of them.

    Tittel is a so-called “environmentalist”, who as turned into a political animal because it’s expedient. If he’s so concerned about the whales, the environment and the wind farms, maybe he should run for a NJ Senate seat, or even Governor–since it doesn’t take much to be a Governor these days.

    Tittel says that there’s no proof about the whales being affected by sonar mapping, but claims whales are dying because of fishing lines and lobster traps. This is utter hyperbole. Less whales have died from fishing lines and lobster traps than sonar mapping and underwater explosives being used for sonar mapping. No one is counting, least of all Tittel. Yet, dead whales & dolphins are washing up on the Jersey shore and up and down the East Coast where they are testing for offshore wind turbine farms.

    Tittel also fails to provide statistics, proof, evidence that the wind farms are going to help reduce fossil fuel use. In fact, Germany and Sweden are getting rid of their offshore (and onshore) wind turbine farms because they DO NOT provide enough energy and are causing serious environmental concerns killing fishing grounds, killing protected bird species, and there’s no place to dump the metal pollution and environmentally problematic oil and electrical fires that the turbines are susceptible to out at sea.

    Tittel is too “milquetoast” with his responses to the matter. This is because he’s probably getting financial support for his organization from the government bureaucrats and the Governor to lay low, while the Governor pushes the wind farms for his own self-aggrandizement in the tens of millions of dollars in his own pocket.

  2. Tittel is absolutely correct about the science on whale mortality – boats strikes and fishing gear are known killers. The NOAA rules to protect whales have been blocked by Congress, including members of the NJ delegation. The Right whale is on the verge of extinction so delay in those rules guarantees extinction.

    The problems with the Murphy off-shore wind program has nothing to do with whales. The problem is huge corporate subsidies and privatization. The wind industry should be publicly owned so that consumers are not ripped off by paying for subsidies, corporate profits, and huge corporate CEO and executive pay.

  3. Whale Deaths off New Jersey-Evidence of the Cause
    There is substantial evidence that the wind energy vessel surveys are the only plausible
    cause of the recent whale and dolphin deaths off the New Jersey shore.
    We keep hearing from the agencies- and parroted by some of the Press- that “there are no
    known links between recent large whale mortalities and ongoing offshore wind surveys.”
    and “no scientific evidence” that the vessel surveys are the cause of the recent whale
    deaths. But that is only because they choose not to look for or at that evidence, which is
    there from numerous instances worldwide of whale stranding in the presence of similar
    vessel surveys, and for these surveys was provided to them in comment letters over a year
    ago. Not looking at evidence is not the same as there being no evidence.
    Before we summarize that evidence below, let’s explain what’s going on here.
    The vessel surveys use high intensity noise devices to characterize the seabed for turbine
    placement. Most of that noise is in the frequency range of the whale’s hearing and
    vocalizing. There are two ways that noise can kill whales. If they are close enough to the
    source and the noise is loud enough, their hearing organs will be permanently damaged.
    That spells doom for them because their entire world is shaped by sound the way ours is by
    sight and other senses. They use sound to navigate and avoid obstacles, to communicate, to
    find food and mates, and to avoid predators.
    The necropsy examinations being done do not look for that permanent hearing damage, but
    even if they did, they wouldn’t find it because that is not likely to be happening here. What
    is happening is disturbance of the whale’s behavior at lower sound levels and at large
    distances from the survey vessel, which then leads indirectly to harm and fatality in many
    ways. The analogy of this is a dog frightened by firework noise runs into the street to meet
    its untimely death by a car. The cause if death will be recorded as vehicle strike but the
    precipitating cause was the noise.
    • The whales will avoid the noise-potentially blocking their essential migrations.
    • It could force the whale to surface to lessen the noise, but then be more susceptible to
    vessel strike.
    • It can cause loss of communication between- and then separation of-mothers and
    calves.
    • It can cause the whale to head to shore to avoid the noise, while at the same time
    blocking its capability to detect obstacles, and beach itself.
    • It can cause stress, panic and harm in other ways we don’t even understand.
    Additionally, the whales face not just a single disturbance from vessel surveys, but repeated
    ones, by the same vessel going back over a nearby area, and by other survey vessels in
    that area as well.
    The evidence that this is happening is plain for anyone to see:
    • The whale deaths began in December when the number of survey vessels out there
    increased from two to six.
    • The number of deaths is unprecedented in New Jersey’s records, 17 whales washed up
    in just 4 months, and according to government data it is likely that twice that number
    died out to sea. The annual average from past years has been seven.
    • The approvals of the vessel surveys were based on unsupported technical and scientific
    assumptions of low noise source level, high noise dissipation, and a high level of noise
    needed to cause whale disturbance. Specifically,
    1. They use a low noise source number of 203 decibels (dB) from a smaller, less
    powerful device rather than measurements from the loudest device, the Dura Spark
    unit, which would put it at 211 dB,
    2. Second, they use a high rate of noise dissipation, 20 decibels per 10-fold increase in
    distance, for all distances from the vessel, but that is only valid for distances about
    equal to the water depth, because then the noise wave bounces off the seabed, and
    spreads out in the water column as a cylinder at a lower dissipation rate of 10 dB,
    3. Finally, they use a relatively high noise level of 160 dB at which it is assumed that all
    animals are disturbed. But that ignores whale observation studies that show that fifty
    percent of baleen whales are disturbed at a lower level of 140 dB, and to get down to
    140 dB requires a much larger distance, and affects many more animals in the area.
    • The range or distance to get down to the accepted level varies exponentially with these
    three factors. So, the use of the more realistic factors increases that range dramatically
    from 0.1 miles to 34 miles from the vessel, and obviously that will affect many more
    whales.
    • There is a clear correlation of the place and time of the whale deaths with the presence
    of the vessels. Maps showing that correlation will be presented to the public soon.
    • Many similar occurrences of whale stranding have occurred worldwide from vessel
    surveys using air guns and mid-frequency sonars. Those events are dismissed by the
    agencies, saying that the noise from the air guns is louder. But they neglect to say that
    much of the noise energy from the air gun is directed downward- and not outward-
    where most of the animals are. The air gun noise energy traveling outward horizontally
    in the water column is similar to that of the sparker units being used here. So, these
    events provide further evidence of the survey devices here causing the whale stranding.
    Finally, no other plausible cause of the recent deaths has been put forward:
    Only 20 percent of the deaths have been attributed by the NJ Marine Mammal Stranding
    Center to “possible” vessel strike. The agencies continue to say about 40 percent but that is
    actually of the whales examined, which is half of those washed up. The “possible” word is in
    there because the blunt force trauma observed could have happened from something else,
    for example, the whale beaching itself while trying to avoid the noise. Even where vessel
    strike may have occurred, it could have been precipitated by the noise from the survey
    vessel causing the loss of the whale’s capability to hear and avoid the oncoming vessel.
    Finally, a vessel strike could have occurred after the whale had died of some other cause. In
    any event that leaves at least 80 percent of the causes of death unaccounted for by the
    agencies.
    Climate change is not a plausible cause, it is a slow, gradual phenomenon that would not
    account for a spike in whale deaths. Vessel traffic in the area actually decreased after
    November so it is an unlikely cause. Whales feeding in different areas would not account for
    their deaths.
    Put it all together, and there is compelling evidence that the vessel surveys are the only
    plausible cause of the recent whale and dolphin deaths. The failure of the agencies to even conduct a serious investigation is a disgrace, as is the failure of some of the Press to do
    research and present facts.
    Save LBI has assembled a lawsuit with detailed technical, mathematical and scientific
    evidence supporting the above seeking to cease the active and future surveys and to compel
    an independent investigation of the matter. It is also seeking a Court order to require the
    agencies to prepare new procedures on estimating noise impact for future activities.
    Bob Stern President
    Save LBI
    info@savelbi.org
    917.952.5016

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