Right whales aren't where we think: implications for renewable energy projects on the US East coast

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Right whales aren't where we think: implications for renewable energy projects on the US East coast

Offshore wind farms are in the early stages of development off the eastern coast of the US, with two projects currently under construction: the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island and the Fisherman’s Energy Wind Farm in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The eastern seaboard is a prime location for the development of renewable energy projects, however, the area is also home to migrating North Atlantic right whales. North Atlantic right whales are currently listed as endangered under the IUCN and therefore stringent pre-development environmental assessments and monitoring are required to determine the potential impacts of renewable energy projects on this species.

North Atlantic right whales migrate between the warm waters of the southeastern US in the winter where they breed and calve and the cold waters of the northeastern US in the summer where they feed. However, little is known about the migratory corridor of these animals along the coast of the mid-Atlantic US. To facilitate management decisions regarding the potential anthropogenic impacts of offshore wind farms on North Atlantic right whales, researchers from Cornell University conducted a passive acoustic monitoring study along the coasts of North Carolina and Georgia in wind energy areas.

Right whales were acoustically detected during an 11-month period to determine seasonal habitat use. Their presence was highest during the fall in Georgia and highest during the winter in North Carolina. Right whales were detected in all seasons, including during times when they were not expected and outside of their previously defined migratory periods. This baseline study indicates that this area of the coast might also be important non-migratory habitat that should be considered in the planning and building of responsible renewable energy projects.

Many mitigation protocols are currently based on a seasonal distribution of right whales in this area. The authors therefore suggested an evaluation of current planning protocols to reflect these findings. Although the North Carolina and Georgia sites are no longer under consideration for current offshore wind farm development, the findings of this study are relevant to BOEM planning efforts and other renewable energy projects along the coast.

For more details, the full paper can be found here.

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