The impact of misinformation on wind turbines and whale deaths

Wind turbines and their impact on marine life, particularly whale deaths, have been a topic of concern and controversy. Former US President Donald Trump’s recent claims that wind turbines are causing whales to die in unprecedented numbers have gained significant attention on social media. However, these claims lack supporting evidence and have been debunked. It is crucial to address this misinformation and educate the public about the true causes and threats to whale populations.

Trump’s assertions were made during a rally in South Carolina, where he suggested that wind turbines used for electricity generation were driving whales “crazy.” He claimed that dead whales were washing ashore on a weekly basis due to the presence of wind farms. While some conservationists have expressed concerns about whale deaths near offshore wind farm developments along the US east coast, there is no scientific evidence linking wind turbines to these deaths.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been actively monitoring humpback whale strandings along the US east coast since 2016. Their data reveals that 208 humpback whales have been stranded during this period, with 33 strandings occurring in 2023 alone. The leading causes of these deaths are human activities such as entanglement in fishing nets and vessel strikes.

NOAA officials have conducted post-mortem examinations on approximately 90 humpback whales found dead since 2016. These examinations have revealed that 40% of the deaths were due to direct human interaction, while other cases had various possible causes including parasite-induced organ damage and starvation. In some instances, decomposition of the carcasses hampered definitive determination of the cause of death.

Marine experts, such as Rob Deaville from the Zoological Society of London’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, emphasize that wind farms are not proven to be a significant threat to whale populations. Instead, the primary dangers to humpback whales are fishing activities and collisions with vessels. Focusing on wind farms as a problem distracts from addressing the real threats faced by these species.

It is worth noting that countries like the UK, which harbor large wind farms, have not observed a correlation between wind farm presence and humpback whale strandings. Furthermore, the NOAA states that there are no known links between recent large whale mortality rates and offshore wind surveys.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that offshore wind farm construction does come at a cost to natural habitats. Prior to building wind farms, the ocean floor needs to be surveyed using acoustic waves, which some activists have claimed may lead to whale deaths. The percussive noise generated during construction may displace smaller marine mammals like porpoises and dolphins temporarily, but they often return, sometimes even in greater numbers.

The spread of misinformation regarding wind turbines and whale deaths can have detrimental consequences. It diverts attention from addressing the true causes of whale strandings, such as fishing practices and vessel collisions. Misinformation can hinder efforts to implement effective conservation strategies and endanger marine species further. It is crucial for the public to be aware of the misinformation surrounding wind turbines and whale deaths, allowing them to make informed decisions and support scientifically-backed initiatives.