Feds push ignorance defense for whale killing by offshore wind development


By David Wojick

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the NOAA Fisheries agency have both put out what amount to “arguments from ignorance” claiming that offshore wind development has nothing to do with the recent whale deaths. “We know nothing about it so it must not be happening” is a ridiculous defense to the charge of offshore wind development causing the death of a lot of whales. But this is exactly what the Feds are now saying.

NOAA Fisheries is a scientific agency and their version is more scientific, which is important because this is really a scientific issue. Let us look at their arguments. They have a fairly long FAQ page on wind and whales here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/marine-life-distress/frequent-questions-offshore-wind-and-whales

Here is their core argument: “At this point, there is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales. There are no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys for offshore wind development.”

These two sentences present different aspects of the argument. Let’s take the second sentence first.

The concept of “specific links” is pretty vague. It has a narrow meaning that BOEM has asserted, namely sonar blasting killing whales on the spot. There is indeed no evidence that this has ever happened. This is not like land based wind, where you can count the dead eagles on the ground around the tower.

Instead, likely causes of death are indirect and death may occur relatively far away in space and time. These causes range from injury, such as bleeding and deafness, to fleeing or avoidance or other behavioral changes.

But ask this question about possible injury: “How many whales have been examined for injury after being sonar blasted?” The answer is none, because there is no way to examine wild whales for bleeding or deafness. Thus the fact that we know of no instances of injury in no way means there are no such injuries. Injury might actually be common.

There are however some very specific links between mortality and sonar survey blasting in the broader sense. First of all, the East Coast humpback whale mortality rate roughly tripled beginning in 2016, which is just when offshore wind surveying really geared up. I discuss this in my article here: https://www.cfact.org/2023/01/23/evidence-says-offshore-wind-development-is-killing-lots-of-whales/.

The recent humpback deaths look to be part of this long term trend. The NOAA FAQ suggests that this huge 2016 jump in mortality might be due to a big increase in humpback numbers. This conjecture is falsified by the fact that the dramatic die-off of the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales (NARW) also started in 2016.

Given no other apparent cause, the ongoing sonar blasting surveys are the likely link between offshore wind development and ongoing elevated whale mortality. Thus sentence two is false. There is a likely link.

Sentence one says there is no evidence that survey noise could potentially cause mortality. It is amusing that this claim is falsified by NOAA’s own activity. Since 2016 they have issued over 40 authorizations for survey noise to harass large numbers of whales. One authorization I looked at permitted harassment of over 100 right whales, whose entire population is estimated at just 340 critters.

Harassment is defined as potentially inducing a change in behavior and these changes can potentially cause mortality. Thus NOAA Fisheries has emphatically certified the potential for survey noise to cause mortality.

I first pointed out a simple case last year in an article titled “How to kill whales with offshore wind”. See https://www.cfact.org/2022/09/27/how-to-kill-whales-with-offshore-wind/ (which I sent to a lot of people at NOAH Fisheries).

The article is about operational noise but site survey noise is just as bad, perhaps much worse. The wind site described is in a low traffic area, as most likely are, with heavy coastal traffic passing nearby. To avoid the horrendous noise, the migrating whales are forced to go around the site, which puts them right into heavy traffic.

The potential for increased deaths is obvious, making sentence one deeply false.

In fact there seems to be a huge gap in the science being done at NOAH Fisheries. On one hand they do a lot on underwater acoustics, that is noise, in order to do these Harassment Authorizations.

As I understand it they first estimate the size and location of the area where the noise level will be above the safe level. Then they use a density model to estimate the number of critters that will be adversely affected and the authorization number is derived from that. This is in effect a forecast of the potential, forced behavior changes.

On the other hand they also do a lot of what is called “population dynamics”. This means looking at what it takes to sustain or grow a given critter population, be it whales, other marine mammals, various monitored fish species, or even sea turtles.

For example they recently lowered the allowed human kill rate for NARW from 0.9 kills per year to 0.7, reflecting the steadily declining population. This means we can safely cause the deaths of no more than 7 whales every 10 years. Killing 2 whales every 3 years also meets this standard as the average is 0.67 whales a year. NOAA estimates we are presently killing well over 2 NARW per year.

What NOAA Fisheries does not seem to be doing is looking at the potential adverse impact of the authorized wind site harassments on the monitored populations, especially whales. Instead they now seem to be claiming that there are no such potential impacts, which is clearly false.

It is precisely this kind of adverse population impact that needs to be assessed before any more Harassment Authorizations are issued by NOAH Fisheries.

What harassment driven behavior changes are to be expected? How might they lead to deaths, such as by injury, infection, ship collision or fishing gear entanglements, etc? In some cases, especially the NARW’s shrinking population, adverse impacts on fertility might also be important.

The basic scientific question is very simple: “What is the potential death rate from proposed authorized harassment?” Authorizing harassment of whales and other protected animals should be suspended until this question is answered.


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 prior articles for CFACT see http://www.cfact.org/author/david-wojick-ph-d/ Available for confidential research and consulting.

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Tim Gorman
January 31, 2023 2:45 pm

““At this point, there is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales.”

Absence of evidence is *NOT* evidence of absence.

I just continually shudder at the lack of critical thinking skills so many of our government agencies and employees exhibit today!

P.S. this is the argumentative fallacy known as Argument to Ignorance as you so aptly point out. Leave it to government to use an argumentative fallacy!

Last edited 1 month ago by Tim Gorman
Gary Pearse
Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 31, 2023 3:20 pm

“Absence of evidence is *NOT* evidence of absence.”

Abscence of evidence triggers manufacture of evidence in climate science. The evidence that Global Warming Policy is killing whales is much stronger than evidence for global warming going to happen or that CO2 has much to do with it.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 31, 2023 6:35 pm

As in, ignorance of the law is …

January 31, 2023 2:53 pm

Interesting because Australian activists are trying to prevent sonar surveys off the NW coast of Western Australia for oil and gas exploration, citing these very same reasons as a threat to whales.

Rick C
Reply to  Streetcred
January 31, 2023 5:56 pm

Yes, and the US Navy has acknowledged that sonar testing causes injury and deaths of marine mammals including whales and dolphins. Greenpeace has been quite active in opposing naval use of active sonar for this reason as I recall.

Reply to  Streetcred
February 1, 2023 8:13 am

Whatever happened to the “Save The Whales” campaign in the U.S.?

Jim Gorman
January 31, 2023 3:01 pm

It seems odd that the government is basically saying that, 1) we have no evidence of injury, and 2) and we aren’t looking either. This is bad government at work!

Last edited 1 month ago by Jim Gorman
Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Jim Gorman
January 31, 2023 7:37 pm

“This is bad government at work!”

No, this is government at work.

Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
January 31, 2023 11:17 pm

No, this is government to the benefit of campaign sponsors.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Jim Gorman
February 1, 2023 3:35 am

“This is bad government at work!”

This is government with an agenda.

January 31, 2023 3:16 pm

A fluke, perhaps, for social distancing. The established Pro-Choice ethical religion.

Reply to  n.n
February 1, 2023 3:28 pm

A “fluke”? I detect some irony, here…

Rud Istvan
January 31, 2023 3:17 pm

Good post. I would add that the greenie leftists have been yammering at the US Navy about their powerful sonar (hunting Russian subs) for many years because of the claimed negative impact on whales. Which Navy denies. So the US government is trying have it both ways. Doesn’t work.

As you point out, here the smoking gun is the bottom mapping timing.

Eagles, bats, and whales all now sacrificed to ‘green’ renewable wind that is costly, intermittent, and without grid inertia. And they claim to be rational. NOT.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Rud Istvan
February 1, 2023 8:22 am

Plus trillions of insects every year killed by turbines.

Michael Shellenberger notes in Apocalypse Never a study that found a conservative estimate was “a loss of about 1.2 trillion insects of different species every year” in Germany. When he asked the study author for more information the response was “Unfortuately I cannot give any interviews on that topic.” The institute he worked for also said it and Dr Trieb are not available for further comment. (Pages 195-196)

Insects of course are important pollinators of plants etc

January 31, 2023 3:19 pm

Our government agencies, bureaucrats and administrators have been caught in so many lies I see no reason to believe anything they say.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Bob
February 1, 2023 3:36 am

That’s a good attitude to have.

CD in Wisconsin
January 31, 2023 3:19 pm

Wind Turbines (on and offshore) are nothing more than monuments to pandering — political pandering to a partisan base of support that is ignorant and illiterate of the technical and scientific problems with wind power. And they all couldn’t care less if they tried.

This brainless pandering that leaves a trail of dead whales and avian wildlife behind it only serves to demonstrate that political power is the only thing that matters to the politicians who claim to care about wildlife among many other things. A pox on all of their houses.

David Wojick
January 31, 2023 4:15 pm

I love the cartoon. Kerry the whale killer.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  David Wojick
February 1, 2023 3:37 am

Kerry, using a windmill as a club.

January 31, 2023 4:48 pm

“But ask this question about possible injury: “How many whales have been examined for injury after being sonar blasted?” The answer is none, because there is no way to examine wild whales for bleeding or deafness. Thus the fact that we know of no instances of injury in no way means there are no such injuries. Injury might actually be common.”

NOAA just proved they are bad fishery and whale managers.

It’s winter and there are whales on New Jersey beaches. They need to send a major portion of their office staff out to immediately dissect dead whales.

Whales, dolphins, porpoises have large head organs that process sound waves into 3D visual maps.
Only ignorant donkeys ignore the unique physical design of whale, dolphin and pospoise brains.

Our Navy has been implicated with underwater sound cannons harming whales and dolphins before.

One thing is certain, a lot of very powerful people expect huge payoffs for killing large numbers of raptors, carrion birds, cranes, bats, whales, dolphins and porpoises

April 1, 2015

Federal wildlife officials broke the law by permitting the United States Navy to harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals with sonic booms and sonar nearly 10 million times, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.”

Last edited 1 month ago by ATheoK
Reply to  ATheoK
February 1, 2023 3:37 pm

You should capitalize “Donkeys” to distinguish between our fine furry friends and the science and morally impaired denizens of The Swamp.

mabel goodrich
January 31, 2023 6:20 pm

By any means, we should create a safer place for all creatures including whales. I work at this website and help people with their demand for the best activities.Thanks for sharing this information. Great job, David!

January 31, 2023 6:25 pm

Turn the table. Tell them to apply the precautionary principle to their position.

Reply to  eo
February 1, 2023 3:38 pm

Deaf ears, my friend, deaf ears….

January 31, 2023 7:01 pm

Whales are protected unilaterally and it is a crime to harass them. You cannot place yourself within 100 yards of any whale at anytime.

January 31, 2023 7:08 pm

Since we’re going to follow the EU model, say good bye to the whales and Natural Gas:

John Oliver
January 31, 2023 7:16 pm

We are dealing with corrupt federal agencies led by corrupt politicians that think a “benevolent dictatorship “ is the ultimate solution to the worlds problems.

If a couple thousand whales have to die for a greener world so be it. Get your mind right or join the whales.

As an aside I was thinking of old bumper stickers. Perhaps a “Save the Whales” one on my left bumper and “Save the Males “on my right.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  John Oliver
February 1, 2023 3:42 am

“We are dealing with corrupt federal agencies led by corrupt politicians that think a “benevolent dictatorship “ is the ultimate solution to the worlds problems.”

Yes, we are.

Radical Democrats are authoritarians who think they know better than the rest of us. Put them in charge, and we get just what we have now: Chaos. Every time. Without fail.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
February 1, 2023 3:40 pm

Chaos, and a decline in everything we see as beneficial. “1984” was just a few years too soon….

January 31, 2023 7:35 pm

Has anyone asked the U.S. Navy? They might just know something about this. That is, if it isn’t classified and they can share it. 😉

Reply to  wxobserver
February 1, 2023 3:43 pm

The US Navy has lots of information, but they are under orders by the civilian government to not disclose.

Pat from Kerbob
January 31, 2023 7:41 pm

There was much discussion of how a few more tankers a month into vancouver for the Transmountain Expansion would wipe out the killer whales.
But of course, the hundreds of tourist whale watching boats whizzing around at high speed has no effect.
Especially as many of those whale watching companies are native owned.
As we know, nothing natives do is harmful to the environment, it’s only if the white devil does the same does it become deadly.

That’s science.

January 31, 2023 8:46 pm

For everyone else, the EPA requires one to prove that you are doing no harm. And the EPA gets to decide if you have provided enough evidence.

January 31, 2023 10:27 pm

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the NOAA Fisheries agency have both put out what amount to “arguments from ignorance” claiming that offshore wind development has nothing to do with the recent whale deaths.

So BOEM & NOAA know nothing about this submission and the references contained within the document posted on 6th December 2022 on the BOEM website?

Gunga Din
February 1, 2023 7:44 am

There are lots of people and groups that study whales.
Do they have recordings of their “whale song” and echolocation sounds?
Has anyone ever compared them to sonar and the sounds/vibrations offshore wind sends out into the water?
Are the frequencies close?

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Gunga Din
February 1, 2023 8:20 am

Good questions! I could see how similar frequencies could confuse the whales into beaching themselves. But a much greater harm, like hearing loss or brain damage, might arise from the amplitude (energy) of the sonars used to map the sea floor. I would like the Feds, or one of the affected (blue) states start performing autopsies, but they seem content to hide behind corporate media’s non-coverage of this phenomenon.

Mr Ed
February 1, 2023 9:46 am

Dead whales washing up on the beach from industrial off shore activity is criminal ,
especially in the numbers being reported. .

. Several years of my misspent youth were spent aboard a Navy ASW ” Hunter Killer” ship
in the early 70’s. It was common knowledge that certain sonar & ASW weapons’ had a serious negative effects on whales/porpoises. We went to considerable lengths to avoid harming whales.

Our country is obviously being run by a very extreme radical group hell bent on this climate change political doctrine. The only thing that’s clear to me is this won’t end well.. This
is very alarming.

Crispin in Val Quentin but really in Kigali
February 1, 2023 10:30 am

Having very recently toured the Science Centre in Edmonton I saw up close (and touched) a preserved blue whale heart, as well as taking in the up close view of an entire skeleton. One of the displays discussed the fact that their mating and birthing have never been observed, and it is not known where these events take place.

This is the source of the creature on display:

I am highlighting that there are other ways whales may be affected by loud noises. If their mating is disrupted, they don’t have to die for the population to be affected negatively.

Disruption is far more likely that deafness because the range over which these animals communicate is enormous.

February 1, 2023 3:25 pm

This is deeply disturbing to me. I am not a “greenie weenie”, but the way we are treating marine mammals is horrendous.

While the global-warm-mongers seem intent to ruin the human economy in the pursuit of the “net-zero” nonsense, they care not a whit for the very real dangers they pose to our fellow Earthian inhabitants. (I would use the word “Terran”, but I don’t want to confuse them, as “Terran” might make them think I’m only talking about land animals, and I have seen they do not have the aggregate intelligence to see the difference).

Last edited 1 month ago by Kpar
February 3, 2023 5:18 am

Aren’t the N europeans ahead of the US on offshore wind development? What is their record with dead or injured whales in those areas?
That might be useful information to judge the issue.

Mr Ed
Reply to  CultivatingMan
February 3, 2023 8:14 am

The Gulf Stream along our east coast is totally different from where the Europeans have
built their towers. The book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
by Mark Kurlansky gives a great look on the region.and some insight into the issues
with the whales. The richness of the wildlife of that area is enormous, and a national

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy set a statewide target of generating 11 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2040. There is a lot of natural gas in the region that has been deemed off
limits by these climate crazys..

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