Offshore wind is systematically violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act


By David Wojick 

New evidence says that offshore wind sonar surveys may have committed hundreds of thousands of violations of the MMPA, each potentially subject to tens of thousands of dollars in fines. The potential penalty total is in the billions. Moreover these incredible violations appear to be deliberate.

These astonishingly bad findings flow from research by the Save the Right Whales Coalition (SRWC). It is a bit technical but here is a simple summary.

First some legal background. We are talking about the activity of sonar blasting doing something called “incidental harassment”. In the MMPA harassment means doing bad things to a marine mammal. These can range from causing adverse behavioral changes to outright injury, such as in this case causing deafness. Incidental means the harassment is due to some activity that is not directed at the mammal, in this case the many sonar surveys done in conjunction with offshore wind development.

One of the fundamental rules in the MMPA is that incidental harassment is illegal unless it has been specifically authorized by NOAA. The extreme noise from offshore wind sonar surveys does a lot of incidental harassment so NOAA has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) for each one. Since sonar blasting geared up in 2016 NOAA has issued over 40 IHAs with more pending.

Each IHA lists the number of authorized harassments by species of affected mammal. How this is done is very important here. In simple terms it is like this. NOAA has established noise level thresholds, above which there is harassment. Given the loudness of the sonar the size of the ocean area where harassment will occur is then determined. Then the number of critters of each affected species that will be in that area, hence harassed, is estimated. That number of harassments is then authorized so the survey can proceed.

These IHA numbers are big. It is not unusual for 5,000 to 10,000 harassments to be authorized in a single IHA. Most of these are typically dolphins and seals, with dozens of whales as well. All the IHAs, effective, expired and pending, are listed here:

These MMPA authorized harassments are an issue because they can cause deadly behavior, such as driving the critter into heavy ship traffic to be struck. But that is not our topic here as we now have something potentially far worse to consider.

Save Right Whales Coalition (SRWC) blows the whistle

SRWC noticed that the recent IHA calculations were using sonar noise levels that were much lower than those specified by the equipment manufacturer. So they did what NOAA should have been doing from the beginning; they measured the noise from a sonar in action doing a survey. They found that the noise level was comparable to the manufacturer’s specs, hence much louder than what the IHA assumed.

Here is how SRWC co-founder Lisa Linowes explained it to me (somewhat technically):

“Thirteen of the 13 IHAs now active for OSW sonar activity show all of the applications were approved based on a sonar level with a source sound level of 211 dB,pk and 203 dB,rms. Had the developers used the correct sound levels using manufacturer’s data of 226 dB,pk and 219 dB,rms (per NOAA’s own guidance), NOAA’s spreadsheet for determining Level B threshold for impulsive sound levels would be 890 meters from the survey boat. But instead, the quieter sonar value submitted to NOAA placed the threshold distance at just 141 meters and that’s what NOAA approved. Using the same calculation for impact area that the developers used but applying the 890 meter radius results in an area that is significantly larger.”

For more see

If the local population scales with area, which seems likely, then the number of harassments will be about 6.3 times higher than authorized. That is 890 divided by 141. For simplicity call it 6 times higher.

Thus the number of unauthorized harassments will be roughly 5 times higher than the number authorized. All of these unauthorized harassments are illegal violations of the MMPA. The number of violations is huge. Note that these low-ball numbers come from the offshore developer not NOAA. The harassment calculations are in the developer’s application.

We know where these low-ball numbers come from. NOAA’s IHA guidance says that if the manufacturer’s data is not available then the applicant can use a proxy number from a 2016 technical publication. Despite the manufacturer’s specs being readily available, all the applicants used some of the lowest proxy numbers. Why NOAA approved this substitution is not known.

Staggering potential penalties for illegal harassment

The potential penalties for unauthorized harassment are sizable. Here is NOAA’s summary:

“If prosecuted, violators of the MMPA could face:

— Civil penalties up to $34,457.

— Up to 1 year in prison, plus criminal fines.

— Forfeiture of the vessel involved, including penalties for that vessel up to $25,000.”


I have seen reports that to date NOAA has authorized over 400,000 offshore wind sonar harassments. If all of these use the low-ball loudness and given our 5 times ratio this implies an incredible 2 million unauthorized harassments or more. At $34,457 per harassment the civil penalties alone work out to just under 69 billion dollars! Not to mention the jail time and criminal fines.

This astonishing 69 billion dollars in potential penalties shows the staggering scale of this issue of unauthorized harassment by offshore wind sonar.

Clearly a thorough investigation is called for. In the meantime this illegal harassment must cease. Active IHAs should be suspended and no more issued until this issue is resolved.

David Wojick

David Wojick
David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For origins see For over 100 prior articles for CFACT see Available for confidential research and consulting.

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Tom Halla
September 28, 2023 6:09 pm

The Biden administration is in bed with the offshore wind lobby as a part of the Green Blob. They are as likely to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act as they are to prosecute Hunter Biden for acting as his father’s bagman.

Reply to  Tom Halla
September 28, 2023 6:21 pm

…or for bringing blow into the White House.

Bill Abell
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 28, 2023 6:22 pm

Yes, and my bet is that there is a lot of grift and graft involved probably in the form of jobs
and investment heads up. Our government is after all a “top notch” criminal organization from the top down.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Bill Abell
September 28, 2023 6:24 pm

I had considered LBJ and Nixon as out there on malfeasance.

Reply to  Tom Halla
September 29, 2023 12:13 pm

Nixon was a choir boy compared to LBJ.

Bob B.
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 29, 2023 3:37 am

Perhaps if 10% of that $69 billion can go to the big guy then…

Reply to  Tom Halla
September 29, 2023 6:29 am

Just one reason of many the uniparty are scared to death that Trump will get back in the WH. There’s trillions at stake!

Richard Page
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 29, 2023 9:32 am

And also the media – one media report mentioned Trump’s highlighting of the issue, stating categorically that it was disinformation spread by a conspiracy of republican’s, science deniers and anti-renewable activists. No mention of the studies done, no mention of the facts supporting this – just a blanket denial of anything that might stop their sacred wind turbines.

September 28, 2023 6:20 pm

If the local population scales with area,

Not by area, the whales (or any marine critter) or not just on the sea-floor, they’re anywhere in that depth of water, so it’s a spherical volume, not just an area. At the very least hemispherical (where is the emitter when it emits?). If it’s a full sphere, the number of creatures harassed is 251.5 times larger than authorized.

Reply to  Red94ViperRT10
September 28, 2023 6:36 pm

…and even if it was area, it would be 890²/141² = 39.8 times as many creatures harassed as authorized. And frankly, I thank “authorizing” harassment is totally bogus anyway, you still have damaged critters.

Reply to  Red94ViperRT10
September 28, 2023 11:17 pm

You’re correct that the linear scaling is wrong. Offshore turbines are usually in fairly shallow water (less than 150 feet) so I would expect the NOAA model to be based on area, and the number of affected animals would increase with the square of the distance. So about 40x greater, not 6x as in the post.

David Wojick
Reply to  Red94ViperRT10
September 29, 2023 2:54 am

This is a source in motion over time so the affected area is a long strip. We are talking about a width, not an area around a point. Water is shallow so depth cannot increase. Hence the linearity.

David Wojick
Reply to  David Wojick
September 29, 2023 5:28 am

Mind you I have reservations about this linear approach. Critters are not fixed objects so harassment should be a function of the area of harmful sound traveling with the boat. Moreover the sound has a gradient so the volume of ocean might be affected. I hope to explore this at some point.

Reply to  David Wojick
September 29, 2023 9:15 pm

I would model it as a cylinder then. The depth of the water may be less than 890m, but it’s not (much) less than 141m, is it?

September 28, 2023 6:39 pm

Classic communist method of doing anything: the means justify the ends. They don’t care able the whale population. Their spinning gods are more important.

general custer
September 28, 2023 6:59 pm

Story: The NOAA is continuing its evaluation of an expanded right whale rule that would cap the speed of vessels 35 to 65 feet in length during calving season off the East Coast to 11.5 mph, the same low velocity the agency requires of large ships.

No word on what the Georgia solons want the speed limit to be on the streets passing by their grand kids’ homes.

Dodgy Geezer
September 28, 2023 7:26 pm

We have the answer!

All we need to do is give these whales a shot with this new MRNA censirship vaccine developed by Moderna and they will be protected from any hearing issues.

It worked very well when tested on politicians and journalists recently – they couldn’t hear a single contradictory word.

September 28, 2023 9:23 pm

Here’s a documentary featuring Lisa Linowes (mentioned above) and acoustician Robert Rand and the effects of sea floor mapping.

It’s not as “sciency” as I’d like, but it’s good for the intended audience and will leave them depressed and upset for the rest of their day. Most shocking to me is that the group that studies whale deaths has been taken over by the wind industry, see the notes about the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society at 13m37s.

I know both Linowes and Rand through our involvement against the Antrim NH wind project, see my posts at

David Wojick
Reply to  Ric Werme
September 29, 2023 5:31 am

It is a good nontechnical, motivational film. Note however that my article is not about whales, but about all adversely affected marine mammals. I think this MMPA violation issue is big and new.

September 29, 2023 3:34 am

Something to keep in mind: The difference between 211db and 226db or between 203db and 219db may not seem like much at first glance, but the important thing about the db scale is that it’s not linear, it’s logarithmic.

In increase of 10db equates to a doubling of the sound level.

That means that the actual transmitted sounds by the equipment are over twice as loud as estimated by the NOAA.

That’s significant.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Sailorcurt
September 29, 2023 10:15 am

This needs to be emphasized:

actual transmitted sounds by the equipment are [OVER TWICE AS LOUD] as estimated by the NOAA.”

September 29, 2023 3:53 am

Why does WUWT keep publishing the diatribes of this yahoo? Diatribes that are 100% without legal or scientific basis.

Sonars don’t harm whales at anywhere near the beam strength involved in siting offshore structure.

Doesn’t WUWT realize (hey, yo!) that banning offshore sonar surveys for offshore wind would ALSO ban offshore sonar surveys for the oil production industry, thereby killing off the offshore oil and gas production industry? How stupid is THAT?

SMH – please WUWT … please stop publishing this ridiculous and damaging (to the oil and gas industry) tripe.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Duane
September 29, 2023 5:10 am

But, here’s one obvious difference. The ff guys using sonar to find ff are doing something great for the human race, with possibly some minor damage to whales, and others. They believe if there is any such damage- it’s worth it. The enviros, on the other hand, would have us believe that installing wind turbines is crucial to “save the world” and they are unwilling to admit that the wind industry just maybe isn’t so great nor admit to any theoretical damage to wildlife. They are self-congratualtory hypocrites wasting billions of dollars for no net benefit to the human race and the Earth- while enriching themselves. At least the ff guys are struggling to produce what we all DEMAND of them- a known product that we need. So it’s fair game to criticize the enviros for this hypocrisy. Of course this sonar issue isn’t going stop wind development at sea and that issue alone won’t stop the ff industry using sonar – but I enjoy watching the enviros squirm trying to defend themselves. I detest them because one of their idiotic goals is to stop all tree cutting “to save the f*****g Earth”. As George Carlin said in one of his most famous monologues, the Earth doesn’t need us to save it.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
September 29, 2023 10:23 am

Another point that should be on BILLBOARDS across the land:




Richard Page
Reply to  Duane
September 29, 2023 9:40 am

It may be damaging to the oil and gas industry as well but it might push for different methods to be used – in other parts of the world, bubble curtains are used to mitigate sound propagation, which would help enormously. If the greens were that bothered about environmental impacts, why aren’t they pushing for mitigation methods to be used?

Tom Abbott
September 29, 2023 3:59 am

My comment is: God Damn the Whale Killers and the Eagle Killers. They are being killed for no good reason. We have insane people in charge.

September 29, 2023 4:41 am

This is not a bug, it is a primary feature. Climatards are blaming all the dead marine mammals on commercial and recreational fishing and recreational boating. It is a win/win for climatards.

September 29, 2023 8:56 am

The Left would file a lawsuit on behalf of the whales. Im usually against that.

But, a court case in which the facts and law on this could be sorted out may be just the thing.

Richard Page
Reply to  kwinterkorn
September 29, 2023 3:32 pm

I think both the left and right would be against harm to whales and many other marine animals. I can’t think of many people that would oppose such an idea, if a compromise was reached where mitigation reduced the levels of harm.

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