The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Thursday finalized their strategy on the protection of endangered North Atlantic right whales in the offshore wind power development process.
The Biden administration has set a goal for generating 30 gigawatts of wind power offshore of the United States by 2030. However, conservationists have raised concerns about these efforts’ potential risks to North Atlantic right whales.
Populations of the whale were severely depleted by the whaling industry in the 19th century, and they still face a number of hazards, including vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing equipment and climate-related depletion of their habitats and food supply.
Only about 360 of the whales are believed to be left, of which only 70 are females capable of giving birth. Even the loss of a single whale in one year could disrupt the species’ capacity to sustainably reproduce.
The final strategy released Thursday includes efforts to avoid leasing that could affect whale habitats, as well as ongoing consultations with wind power developers to avoid crossing noise thresholds, itself a contribution to the whales’ population declines and habitat loss.
BOEM also plans to put nearly $14 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding toward acoustic impact modeling in an effort to improve ships’ detection systems. NOAA’s fisheries department is also partnering with the Center for Enterprise Modernization to develop technologies that reduce hazards to the whales, such as fishing gear that does not pose an entanglement risk.
“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,” NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said in a statement.
“Working together on this strategy leverages the best available scientific information to inform offshore wind management decisions while conserving and recovering the species.”