Whale Death Confusion Abounds and Some Is Deliberate

By David Wojick

Press coverage of the tragic whale deaths is a supreme study in confusion, especially the foolish attempts to somehow exonerate offshore wind development. Here are some prominent examples.

The evergreen New York Times wins the race for worst coverage by claiming to explain the numerous recent whale deaths as due to online shopping. I am not making this up.

Their headline promises an explanation: “Why 23 Dead Whales Have Washed Up on the East Coast Since December”. The primary reason claimed is that East Coast shipping has increased due to people buying lots of stuff post Covid, especially online, and ship strikes account for a lot of the deaths.

Here is how NYT puts it: “Online pandemic buying habits are also fueling a record-setting surge in cargo shipments that last year made ports in New York and New Jersey the nation’s busiest. Much of the merchandise is now toted on far bigger ships — some of which have altered their routes to help alleviate the supply-chain chaos that last year left some store shelves bare. As a result, more whales appear to have found themselves in the direct path of more ships. “When the whales are in these channels,” said Paul Sieswerda, executive director of Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research group, “you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no collisions.”“

This ignores the role offshore wind plays in putting the whales into those busy ship channels.

The problem with this excuse is that ship strikes are a likely cause of death due to offshore wind development. NOAA predicts that many hundreds of whales will have been harassed by offshore wind sonar surveys, which likely causes a lot to flee into the nearby heavy traffic lanes. Some may even be deafened at the time.

So increasing ship traffic actually makes offshore wind more deadly. The widespread idea that ship strikes are an alternative to wind deaths is a complete fallacy.

The NYT also says that the coastal humpback whale population has increased and most of the deaths are humpbacks. But such an increase subjects even more whales to sonar harassment, again making it deadlier. Plus this ignores the fact that the humpback death rate suddenly tripled in 2016, as did the right whale die off, when large scale sonar harassment began.

More typical is the headline from the also-green Virginia Mercury: “Wind and whales: ‘No evidence’ links projects to deaths”. No “link” is the prevailing mantra.

In reality the link is staring us in the face. It is the dozen active, large scale sonar harassment projects presently lining the coast from Virginia to Massachusetts. A whale’s reaction to sonar harassment can easily become deadly. In fact the NOAA harassment potential is calculated based on how many whales are forecast to be exposed to unsafe sonar noise levels.

It is suspiciously odd that no article I have seen even mentions these widespread, ongoing sonar harassment numbers. Is this appalling ignorance or a cover up?

I do know of one case where the failure to mention the scourge of sonar harassment is deliberate. This is in several recent articles on whale deaths in USA Today.

Before these articles were written I had a lengthy correspondence on the death threat of sonar harassment with one of the authors. The author even said they had looked at the long list of NOAA numerical harassment authorizations. Yet not one word was said about this quantitative threat in a subsequent article.

Of course the folks at NOAA and BOEM know all about the authorized ongoing harassment of hundreds of whales. They tend to say there is no “direct link” by which they mean the sonar is not killing the whales directly, which is true. The whales are not being killed by the sound blasts.

But the sonar blasting is very likely killing a lot of whales indirectly by inducing things like deafness and deadly behavior. Thus the Feds are lying by technical omission. News articles then compound this deception by using the term “link” more generally.

In truth the link between sonar harassment and whale deaths is obvious. It is this link that needs to be investigated.


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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March 11, 2023 6:17 am

A court has already ruled that naval sonar kills various Maine life. The US Navy had to curtail use of sonar because of the ruling.

The minimum should be stopping the wind farm testing to find out if what they are doing can harm whales.

Reply to  mkelly
March 11, 2023 12:58 pm

Bullshit. Courts don’t determine science. Given that many tens of thousands of warships have been routinely using anti submarine sonars for the last 80 some years, just where are all those millions of dead whales supposedly killed by them?

Reply to  Duane
March 11, 2023 1:08 pm

Sorry Duane,

“The court found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which gave the authorization, isn’t doing enough to avoid harming or killing marine mammals under the law.”

This was in regard the use of sonar. If you have something that says no court ruled against the Navy in regard it’s use of sonar in certain places and times please show it.

March 11, 2023 6:18 am

We don’t need whales anyway because we have hydrocarbons from the ground. Oh wait.

Reply to  Scissor
March 11, 2023 2:22 pm

The whales also demand removal of the 5 floating plastic debris fields in the oceans…do not litter……Willy the Whale sez thanks.

Reply to  antigtiff
March 12, 2023 3:56 pm

Expeditions have searched for and failed to find any gyres of floating plastic.

Which is why all of the ‘photographic evidence’ has been taken in certain bays and river mouths where plastic dumped by the waterways fell into the water and washed to the waterway’s outlet.

Often that dumped plastic hails from Western civilizations that collect recycling and then sell/pay countries to accept it.

March 11, 2023 6:24 am

Sailing offshore in the tropics one night I was startled to see two torpedo tracks rapidly approaching from the stern quarter. Exactly like something out of a WWII movie.

Somehow the boat didn’t explode on contact. Rather two dolphins started riding and jumping in our bow-wave. Clearly lit up in the blue white phosphorescence of the microscopic sea life on a moonless night

How did those dolphins find us in the middle of the ocean, a few thousands miles from land with no engine noise? Just the sound of water flowing past our hull.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  ferdberple
March 11, 2023 10:00 am

More likely they were toying with that great white shark that had been stalking your boat.

Mike McMillan
March 11, 2023 6:24 am

This calls for an application of the Precautionary Principle.

Reply to  Mike McMillan
March 11, 2023 9:33 am

Don’t underestimate the power of insanity. The Precautionary Principle seems to be just a leftist tool to be used when it fits but logic is seemingly out of vogue.

Leftist Sean Penn says we have to throw caution to the wind in Ukraine and not be afraid of possible nuclear war from any escalation. I find it so interesting that the left now embraces war and nukes.

Also, Penn takes the side of the CIA in Ukraine but not in Central and South America. The confusion is amazing.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Scissor
March 11, 2023 9:58 am

I, too, take the side of Ukraine, which is borrowing NATO weapons and using them for their intended purpose.

Reply to  Mike McMillan
March 11, 2023 12:01 pm

I meant to point out the hypocrisy of Penn taking a pro American, pro war, pro nuclear weapon stance in Ukraine, while for instance supporting brutal socialist dictators, e.g., Maduro of Venezuela.

I assume that your stance is rational and consistent.

Tom Halla
March 11, 2023 6:24 am

And these windmills will be in a major flyway for migrating birds, along with killing whales.
Greens do not actually care about nature.

michael hart
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 12, 2023 12:11 am

To be fair, I think that many of them do think that they care. Emotions.

But they are often poorly educated in simple mathematics and science. There are many people in the world who want to do good, but are poorly equipped to do so in the face of the presented messaging and information.

Rud Istvan
March 11, 2023 6:27 am

The EIA says offshore wind LCOE is about 3x onshore. And correctly calculated, onshore wind LCOE is about 2.5x CCGT. So offshore wind is over 7 times more expensive than CCGT. A total non-starter economically without massive subsidies. And this mostly ignores the additional grid cost of intermittency backup at any meaningful wind penetration.

Killing whales for such a nonstarter ought to be a crime.

March 11, 2023 6:42 am

Windmills in New York fuel more coal plants in China.

Most windmill farms would never be able to pay for themselves if they had to compete in the power grid at wholesale prices like other power generators.

The idea that you can reduce emissions by making electrical generation less efficient ignores the unintended consequences of the market. Demand will shift to the lowest cost producer regardless of how dirty the result.

Reply to  ferdberple
March 11, 2023 9:18 am

Your first sentence is a beauty.

Reply to  ferdberple
March 11, 2023 11:31 am

Thats 100% right ferdberple..
North America and Europe are reducing their coal use but China is now using 5.3 billion tonnes of coal which is more than the whole world used in 2008.
Any one with even a small brain can see that China and other Asian countries are rapidly becoming the power house of the world .
Cheap energy will always be an major advantage for any country exporting manufactured goods to the world .
World emissions will never reduce and at some time in the future when poverty becomes wide spread in Europe and America some one might wake up to what is happening .
Why destroy your countries economy in the hope that you are saving the world when other countries are increasing their use of coal to a much higher level .
Fact .
World coal production was at a steady 4.7 billion tonnes from 1999 untill 2008 .
Coal use has now exceeded 8 billion tonnes .
Carbon Zero makes no sense .

Reply to  Graham
March 11, 2023 3:29 pm

Saving the world is only a slogan to keep the unthinking in line.

James Snook
March 11, 2023 6:50 am

The off shore turbines aren’t worth having anyway. Wind this morning in the U.K., which has the biggest fleet of offshore turbines in the world, was contributing only 10% of a low Saturday morning demand. Imports through vulnerable undersea interconnectors were 20%.

March 11, 2023 6:51 am

Only shallow, elitist, top of the bill, consumers would blame consuming on everybody else, but themselves. How many chase a bit of skirt in a private jet like Leonardo DiCaprio? And how many scrape it together to fill their petrol tank for work for the week etc?

For everything but offshore and onshore wind [and solar] we absolutely must follow the precautionary principle in its starkest form: You don’t do it.

“The first great energy transition: how humanity gave up whaling”

“The second great energy transition: how humanity inadvertently took up whaling again”

Last edited 9 days ago by strativarius
March 11, 2023 6:55 am

The adverse effect of sonar emissions on whales has been known since the 1980s or earlier. In the early 1990s, I was involved in US Navy efforts to establish the link between sonar and whale harm and create procedural changes to Navy operations in the Atlantic to minimize such harm. For someone to deny evidence of the link requires them to be either ignorant of the link and thus a poor scientist or to deny the link which makes them a fraud.

David Wojick
Reply to  Denis
March 11, 2023 10:07 am

Here is what the NOAA website says:
“Is U.S. offshore wind development linked to any whale deaths?
At NOAA Fisheries, we work with our partners to analyze and understand the causes of death when we are able, following the science and data. 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, and no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys.”

Pure denial

Curious George
March 11, 2023 7:18 am

This interpretation comes from Gotham Whale. Batman and Robin to the rescue!

March 11, 2023 7:23 am
Last edited 9 days ago by strativarius
Reply to  strativarius
March 11, 2023 9:20 am

Great song.

March 11, 2023 8:40 am

What is different with the Atlantic whale and Gulf of Mexico whales? Hundreds of miles of seismic lines have been shot here for at least 50 years and I have never heard of problems with the whales.

David Wojick
Reply to  RichardB
March 11, 2023 10:16 am

Possibly the technology. Sonar area mapping and seismic lines are different. Also the East Coast sites are among extremely heavy shipping lanes. In fact the OSW sites are deliberately placed in the lower traffic areas between the coastal barge traffic near shore and the big ship traffic further out. The continuous sonar blasting in the OSW sites, for days at a time, forces the whales into the two heavy traffics. Go play in the street, as it were.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  RichardB
March 11, 2023 10:42 am

Probably because the offshore oil industry operates under the microscope of public opinion and has therefore taken extreme measures to minimize damage to marine life, particularly cetaceans. There’s also a big difference in energy and frequency between ‘seismic’ and ‘sonar’ surveys.

Seismic is relatively low energy / frequency and is used for geological mapping. The required energy is provided by releasing compressed air into the water, as opposed to Greenpeace’s propaganda that it’s just a bunch of yahoos tossing dynamite off the back of a boat. Sonar is relatively high energy / frequency and is typically only used by the industry for detailed sea bottom mapping prior to the infrequent siting of oil and gas production platforms.

While I’m not an expert, I would presume that since offshore wind requires installing a lot of platforms, the wind folks are probably using a lot of sonar in advance of siting their turbines.

David Wojick
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
March 11, 2023 11:45 am

Yes a typical site is 10 by 10 miles and the sonar survey boat will travel 1,000 miles mapping it in detail, firing every few seconds for days at a time. To give an idea of the detail they then have boats whose sole job is to move boulders on the bottom, so the 100 or so giant towers can be properly spaced.

Here is a typical boulder movement listing:

David Wojick
Reply to  David Wojick
March 11, 2023 11:53 am
March 11, 2023 9:08 am

It’s a cover up.

David Wojick
Reply to  rah
March 11, 2023 10:21 am

Exactly that. That NOAA actually authorizes hundreds of whales to be subjected to sound levels that are unsafe, by NOAA’s own standards, is never mentioned. Every sonar survey has a long list of marine mammal “harassment authorizations”, on a species by species basis.

March 11, 2023 9:15 am

You know Fathometers are nothing more than a sonar that is directed downward. And those have been in common use for a long time in all kinds of applications all over the world. There has to be some technical explanation for what the difference is with what they’re using for their sea bird choppers.

David Wojick
Reply to  rah
March 11, 2023 10:29 am

Ordinary fish finders also use sonar but site mapping sonar is very loud to get precision. Some models are well above a loudness that in air would be painful to humans. Whales communicate over long distances with sound so have very sensitive hearing. It is likely that some are deafened when a site survey suddenly goes off near them.

In fact it was just discovered that the severely endangered right whales use a special soft sound voice for mother-baby communication. These whales migrate yearly along the coast between New England and Georgia so will have to run an OSW noise gauntlet twice a year. They are heading north right now with babies that are just a few months old.

Gunga Din
Reply to  David Wojick
March 11, 2023 12:58 pm

Aside from the volume of various types of sonar for different purposes, are different frequencies used?

Gavin Liddiard
March 11, 2023 9:22 am

Don’t forget the construction noise.
I live on the Wirral, UK and my brother in-law lives nearby, close to the beach in Hoylake, Wirral. You can see the Burbo Bank wind farm, which is about 5km to the north in Liverpool Bay, from the shore near his house.
During the construction phase of the wind farm he complained of a year of sleepless nights while they were hammering the wind turbine bases into the seabed. This was going on day and night.
If my brother in-law was disturbed while trying to sleep in a second floor bedroom a few hundred yards from the beach, I hate to think what it was like for the marine life in the Irish Sea.

David Wojick
Reply to  Gavin Liddiard
March 11, 2023 10:32 am

Yes that hell is about to start. See my https://www.cfact.org/2023/02/16/whale-hell-looms-in-massachusetts/

Our proposed turbines are much bigger than those in the UK so driving the monster monopiles will be that much louder than you describe.

John Oliver
March 11, 2023 10:20 am

It often takes a long time (for the MSM)to sort out cause of excess death with creatures of the wild. Do I since a parallel here.

Janice Moore
March 11, 2023 10:38 am

Killing whales for, essentially, this:

“… the Simpsons are living ———- intermittently!” Homer Simpson

Last edited 9 days ago by Janice Moore
March 11, 2023 12:55 pm

There is no such thing as “offshore wind sonar harassment” of whales – that is totally fabricated BS.

The only thing involving sonar – otherwise called a “fish finder”- for offshore wind projects is to monitor the presence, numbers and movements of sea life around the platforms for scientific and regulatory purposes. The sonar signals output by fish finders is extremely weak, and are no different than the sonars found on virtually all boats and ships in the world today, for purposes of fishing and navigation (ie depth sounding). Absolutely no harm is done to any whales or any other sea life. We’re talking tens of millions of boats and ships worldwide (12 million registered vessels in the US alone) that use sonar.

Decades ago environmentalists complained about warship anti-submarine sonars supposedly harming whales but that effect and harm was never proven. ASW sonars are vastly more powerful (by up to hundreds of times on ship mounted or towed sonar arrays) than any sonars in use for offshore wind or boating or commercial ship navigation. ASW sonars have been used routinely world wide on thousands of vessels for the last 80 years.

David Wojick
Reply to  Duane
March 12, 2023 11:26 am

Then why does NOAA authorize the “harassment” of hundreds to thousands of whales by OSW sonar, where harassment is defined as subjecting them to unsafe noise levels?

Peter Fraser
March 11, 2023 1:18 pm

There was the story of Commander Crabb being killed by live sonar while diving around a Russian warship. Because of mis communication I experienced seismic operations while oil field diving. It was not possible to continue working and I returned to the diving bell which was well named as it rang like a bell with every shot. We sat there for about ten minutes while priorities were worked out. The seismic activity ceased and I went back to work. Topsides informed us the offending vessel was eight miles away.

March 11, 2023 2:01 pm

Very nice report.

March 12, 2023 6:02 am

if you doubt noaa / internet honesty about whale mortality ; a few years ago ( maybe 10 ) a noaa ship struck and killed a right whale off new england . i just looked and could no longer find any mention of it on the internet .there is a story of a noaa ship hitting a right whale at 22 kts . they claimed the whale was not seriously injured . it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who lived thru watergate , viet nam , the iraq war , the destruction of russia’s pipeline to europe , that the government cannot be trusted when lying is in their best interest .

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