Senator Mike Testa sarcastically noted the other day that if oil drilling rigs were suspected of killing whales, environmentalists would be memorializing the dead mammals by singing kumbaya.
Sarcasm often is used to make a point and this is the point Testa made at a May 3 hearing convened by Senate Republicans: Why aren’t more environmental groups concerned about a possible link between dead whales washing up on the Jersey Shore and sonar equipment being used to prepare for offshore wind turbine constriction?
Speakers at the meeting said there have been 19 dead whales and dolphins found on New Jersey and Long Island beaches from March, 2022 to March, 2023.
This may be a question for science, but everything these days is political.
Republicans, who have never been gung-ho about offshore wind in the first place, want to put a temporary hold on work related to turbine construction. The latest hearing followed one a few weeks ago organized by Rep. Jeff Van Drew.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone sent out a statement before the hearing in Trenton even began.
“Republicans at the federal and state level need to stop their opposition to offshore wind,” is how it began. Later, Pallone said:
“The food source whales depend on is moving closer to the busy shipping lanes near the Port of New York and New Jersey as ocean temperatures rise, leaving them vulnerable to vessel strikes and entanglements.” And that, he said, is what’s responsible for most of the recent deaths.
Others agree that warming ocean water has forced whales to move north in search of cooler seas, where they may encounter the busy shipping lanes of the New York-New Jersey area.
No one at the hearing, which was chaired by state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, of Morris County, questioned that.
However, it was pointed out that many of the deaths occurred in winter months when shipping lanes are normally less busy.
There also remains a question as to why whales and dolphins are being struck by ships. Is it just bad luck, or are they disoriented by the sound of sonar work related to the wind turbines?
While this saga typically breaks down along traditional liberal and conservative lines, that is not true 100 percent of the time.
Some environmental groups attended the hearing and echoed what Republicans were saying.
Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said it looks like offshore wind construction is just moving “too fast.”
Trisha DeVoe, a marine biologist, said it’s possible that construction preparation activity could frighten whales and cause them to flee – thereby putting themselves in harm’s way. There may not be evidence of that at the moment, but DeVoe said one can not find evidence unless one looks for it.
And that is what Bucco said that he and like-minded Republicans want.
Bucco said that so far the debate has been framed by offshore wind supporters such as both the Biden and Murphy administrations. His hearing – and the earlier one by VanDrew – clearly were designed to counter that.
Bucco and others suggested that a construction pause of say, 30 or 60 days, may offer some clarity. For example, if offshore wind work stops and mammals are still being killed, it may suggest that the deaths are unrelated to the work. Logically, the reverse would send a message as well.
He said he hopes that as whales and dolphins continue to die in unprecedented numbers, someone on the other side of this debate will hear the critics and say, “Hey, maybe there is something here.”