* Fishing Industry Cleared Of Sperm Whale Deaths
* Royal Navy Denies Any Responsibility For Strandings
* Wind Industry Experts Admit That Turbine Noise Can Affect Whales
I was criticised by many after I wrote a recent blog piece suggesting that the unusually high mortality rate of marine mammals over the past few years might have something to do with the proliferation of offshore wind farms. I was accused of having a 'basic level of logic' and an 'uninformed opinion'. Interestingly much of the criticism (as usual) came from those with an investment in the wind industry...
There has been precious little independent research into the subject.
An ongoing investigation into this year's huge increase in whale strandings is being carried out by the UK and Scottish governments, neither exactly neutral on the subject of wind farms with both governments heavily invested in offshore energy projects.
1000 Whales Dead This Year
This year alone, it is estimated that upwards of 1000 whales have died around the coasts of the UK and Ireland in an exceptionally high mortality event. In 2017, when some Minke whales were washed up on the East coast of England, it was suggested that noise from nearby offshore wind farms had affected the animals' delicate echolocation mechanisms, but the idea was quickly ridiculed by 'experts' even though it appeared to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion, one that should have at least been investigated further....
Royal Navy Denies Its Sonar To Blame
During 2018, as more and more reports came in of whales, including large numbers of Cuvier's Beaked whales, being washed up around the UK coastline, it was decided that sonic activity from military manoeuvres in the North Atlantic was the most likely cause for the whales' deaths, though the Royal Navy was quick to deny any involvement on its part and said at the time: “There is no evidence that the deaths of these marine mammals have been attributed to any Royal Navy Sonar operations, trials or exercises."
So with nobody accepting blame and no credible explanations being put forward, what was causing the mass deaths? Such large numbers of dead whales couldn't be ignored. I decided to take a closer look at some studies and a little research does in fact bring up some interesting findings....
Study Suggests Fishing Industry Not To Blame For Sperm Whale Strandings
A study by the University of Utrecht into the strandings of thirty Sperm whales around North Sea coasts in the summer of 2016 reached no definite conclusion. It did however rule out disease as being a contributory factor. Significantly, the researchers also said in their report that "We found no evidence of manmade trauma due to entanglement or ship-strike, nor was there evidence of significant levels of chemical pollution." The fishing industry is popularly blamed for whale deaths and to some extent this might be justified - but the Dutch study found no evidence of this with regard to the Sperm whale deaths.
And anyway, even given the many and varied human-made perils that whales face, we cannot afford to ignore the very feasible threat posed by offshore turbines - however much money is invested in this dubious industry.
2,590 Turbines In North Sea - And Many Unexplained Whale Deaths
If we concentrate for now on the well documented reports of whale strandings around North Sea coasts, we can see, as the map below illustrates, that there are an astonishing 2590 wind turbines currently operating in the North Sea across 40 extensive wind farms. Let that figure sink in for a moment.....
In the absence of any obvious explanation for the whales' deaths, might it not be entirely logical to believe that they had been disoriented by low level nose emitting from the vast banks of turbines?
"Wind Turbine Operation Creates Noise That May Affect Cetaceans" - 2004 Report
The North Sea is awash with turbines, all emitting low level noise that might be capable of affecting the navigation and communication of whales and other cetaceans. Both construction and operation of wind farms produces noise which can disorientate whales.
A 2004 study on the impact of wind farms on marine life stated that "Wind turbine operation also creates noise that may affect Right Whales and other cetaceans. Noise from operating turbines can reach a marine mammal through an initially waterborne, airborne, or substrateborne path. Aerodynamic vibrations caused by the rotating blades travels through the air before reaching the water and then the animal. Vibrations from the structure itself will enter the water directly. Vibration from this source may increase overtime as the mechanical components wear". (Nedwell & Howell 2004).
"Noise From Wind Farms Can Overlap With Communication Signals Of Marine Mammals"
The industry admits that they are trying to find ways to avoid harm to whales and other cetaceans during construction of wind farms, so they know there is a problem. But they have also implied that operational noise from established wind farms can have a detrimental effect on marine mammals.
For example, in an article for Renewable Energy World, author Dr Federica Pace, an expert on the subject of underwater acoustics, states clearly that "servicing vessels used during construction and operation [of offshore wind farms] can generate continuous noise at low frequencies, which overlap with the communication signals of many marine mammals, such as Baleen Whales."
Dr Pace goes on to say that "the [noise] thresholds that lead to changes in behaviour and wider population impacts are still largely unknown..."
Back in 2014, the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), were warning of the impact that construction of four new offshore wind farms in Scotland would have on marine mammals. "...another nail in the coffin of the local harbour seal population...." they said, adding that it would also severely affect the population of Bottlenose Dolphins, "...there is no certainty that the effects of construction over a period of five years on the Bottlenose Dolphin population can be recovered."
2016: Strandings Again Linked With Wind Farm Activity
By 2016, numbers of stranded and beached whales were rising dramatically. The CSIP (U.K. Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme) were alarmed at the unusually high mortality rate. And they too were considering that wind farm activity might be contributing to the deaths, pointing out that "the strandings have been linked with wind farm activity, naval sonar, and even climatic factors".
Online Trolling Of Those Who Dare Question The Wind Industry
Oddly, now in 2018, it seems that nobody wants to blame wind farms. There is aggressive criticism and online trolling of those who propose the notion. I know from experience. What has changed? Only perhaps the fact that huge amounts of money have been invested in offshore wind, so the thought that it might be causing the mass strandings of whales is too much to contemplate. Too much money at stake perhaps?
Naturally we are all horrified when we find that plastics are threatening the survival of marine life. And we all worry about pollution in our oceans. And rightly so, of course. But isn't it about time that we face up to the fact that wind farms might also be lethal to marine creatures? Or will we just bury our heads in the sand and ignore the possibility?
Independent Research Needed - Before Any Further Offshore Wind Farm Development
I say that we need - and urgently - an independent and thorough study into the very real possibility that the increase in offshore wind is having a direct and lethal impact on whales and other marine wildlife. The fact that more and more wind farms are being sanctioned and installed without such research is a scandal.
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