NOAA, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management release strategy to mitigate impacts of offshore wind on whales

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a joint strategy on how to safely develop offshore wind and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The plan places actions under three goals. The first goal is the development of mitigation and support tools. The second is research and monitoring. The third encompasses collaboration, communication and outreach.

“Right whales are endangered and climate change is impacting every aspect of their survival — from changing ocean habitat, prey availability and affecting migratory patterns — making the transition to cleaner, renewable energy critically important,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Working together on this strategy leverages the best available scientific information to inform offshore wind management decisions while conserving and recovering the species.”

Immediate impact mitigation efforts include avoiding leasing areas for offshore wind that may impact potential North Atlantic right whale habitat and where they swim the most. Another is providing guidance to developers on conducting “robust sound field verification” to ensure that noise levels expected from offshore wind activities do not exceed thresholds set for certain activities.

North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction. According to data from NOAA, there are roughly 360 individuals remaining, including fewer than 70 reproductively active females.

Last year, a right whale was killed by a vessel strike and washed ashore in Virginia Beach. NOAA determined the whale suffered “catastrophic” blunt-force trauma, which damaged a large portion of its vertebral column. Injuries consistent with a vessel strike would have resulted in death shortly after the injury.

In September, NOAA announced $82 million from the Inflation Reduction Act will be used to support technology to reduce human-caused deaths of North Atlantic right whales.

BOEM director Elizabeth Klein said in a statement that President Joe Biden has committed to responsible development of offshore wind. According to NOAA, federal groups have a goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

“That’s why we have increased our efforts to develop a strategy — based on the best available science — that will allow us to protect the North Atlantic right whale while meeting our offshore wind goals that are necessary to curb climate change and protect the environment,” Klein said.

Eliza Noe, eliza.noe@virginiamedia.com