Humpback whales continue to wash up dead along the mid-Atlantic coast, and the most recent one hits especially close to home—at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Aquarium says it received a report Tuesday of a dead humpback whale floating in the waters of Virginia Beach, near Lynnhaven Beach. Boater Jacob Beller shared a photo on Facebook of a large marine mammal floating at the surface, warning fellow boaters to be on the lookout coming into Lynnhaven Inlet.
The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team coordinated with the Virginia Beach Police Marine Patrol to track down the whale’s specific location. Now the Stranding Response Team is working with the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to bring the whale ashore on Wednesday in the area of First Landing State Park.
Once on land, biologists will examine the whale carcass and perform a necropsy. Authorities are asking everyone to steer clear of the whale and any associated gear. It is illegal to touch a whale they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Tension has been steadily mounting between federal regulators for the offshore wind industry and those who blame the spate of whale deaths on wind farm development. The highest concentration of deaths has been in New Jersey. Seven whales were found dead there in December and January alone. New York and New Jersey together have seen a total of 10 recent whale deaths, including one on Long Island on Jan. 30.
Seafloor surveys had been taking place in that region for upcoming projects, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stressed that none of those deaths were attributed to offshore wind activity. They acknowledge that “harassment” of whales can take place with offshore wind projects through noise exposure. And the risk of vessel strikes could increase because of the additional boat traffic that wind farm development brings.
NOAA maintains there are no documented cases of whale deaths being linked to offshore wind projects and no evidence of whales being injured due to the seafloor probing developers have been doing to identify cable corridors or other wind energy activity.
Three weeks ago, a dead whale washed up on the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore. The news prompted Maryland Congressman Andy Harris (R-1) to call for an “immediate moratorium” on all offshore wind activity and geotechnical testing until it can be proven the activities definitively aren’t causing these deaths.
But the wind energy advocacy group American Clean Power maintains that the wind industry is being used “as an excuse by clean energy detractors trying to stop the growth of a new energy source for Americans.” In a statement, the group writes, “Groups opposed to clean energy projects spread baseless misinformation about the role of offshore wind development that has been debunked by scientists and career experts in the environmental and regulatory worlds.”
American Clean Power goes on to point out that clean energy sources like offshore wind can combat warming oceans from climate change, which in itself is a major threat to marine life.
You can report any stranded marine mammal or sea turtle sightings to the Stranding Response hotline at (757) 385-7575. Please note the exact location.
-Meg Walburn Viviano