Are wind turbines killing whales?

  • Sperm Whales on beach

Between January 9 and February 4 this year, 29 sperm whales got stranded and died on English, German and Dutch beaches. Environmentalists and the news media offered multiple explanations – except the most obvious and likely one: offshore wind farms.

Indeed, that area has the world’s biggest concentration of offshore wind turbines, and there is ample evidence that their acoustic pollution can interfere with whale communication and navigation.

However, Britain’s Guardian looked for answers everywhere but in the right place. That’s not surprising, as it tends to support wind energy no matter the cost to people or the environment. After consulting with a marine environmental group, the paper concluded: “The North Sea acts as a trap.… It’s virtually impossible for [whales] to find their way out through the narrow English Channel.”

No it’s not. These intelligent animals would naturally have found their way to and through the Channel by simply following the coast of England or continental Europe. But the author seems determined to pursue his “explanation,” even when it becomes increasingly illogical. “The [trapped] whales become dehydrated because they obtain their water from squid,” he argues, before acknowledging that “the dead Dutch and German animals were well-fed,” and that the North Sea’s squid population has increased in recent years.

The article discards Royal Navy sonar and explosives, because “big naval exercises in UK waters are unusual in midwinter.” Finally, the author concludes with this quote from his purported expert: “When there’s a mass stranding, it’s always wise to look at possible human effects. But, at the moment, I don’t see anything pointing in that direction.” He should look a bit harder. Not everyone is so blind.

Indeed, “researchers at the University of St. Andrews have found that the noise made by offshore wind farms can interfere with a whale’s sonar, and can in tragic cases see them driven onto beaches where they often die,” a UK Daily Mail article  observed.

It is certainly possible that permanent damage to the cetaceans’ middle and inner ears, and thus to their built-in sonar, can result from large air guns used during seismic surveys and from violent bursts of noise associated with pilings being rammed into the rock bed. Wind promoters themselves admit that their pile-driving can be heard up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) underwater, and can be harmful to whales that happen to be nearby. But unless these injuries cause external bleeding, they are very difficult to detect.

Natural phenomena such as seaquakes, underwater volcanic eruptions and meteorites crashing into the oceans have likely been the cause of whale beachings throughout history, by injuring the animals’ inner ears and sonar organs, frightening and disorienting them, and causing them to seek refuge in shallow waters. In more recent years, “military exercises using mid-frequency sonar have been linked quite clearly to the disorientation and death of beaked whales,” says The Guardian.

Low frequency sonar can be even more dangerous, the Natural Resource Defense Council asserts. “Some systems operate at more than 235 decibels,” the NRDC has said, “producing sound waves that can travel across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. During testing off the California coast, noise from the Navy’s main low-frequency sonar system was detected across the breadth of the northern Pacific Ocean.”

The U.S. Navy itself has recognized the danger that sonar systems represent for marine mammals. As reported in Science magazine: “In a landmark study, the U.S. Navy has concluded that it killed at least six whales in an accident involving common ship-based sonar. The finding, announced late last month by the Navy and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), may complicate Navy plans to field a powerful new sonar system designed to detect enemy submarines at long distances,” despite how important that system and its submarine and surface ship counterparts are for national security.

It has been said the “low-frequency active sonar” from this system would be the loudest sound ever put into the seas, The Guardian states. But wind turbines also emit low frequency noise, including dangerous infrasound. At sea, these vibrations are transmitted via the masts to the water, and via the pilings to the rock bed. They can travel up to 31 miles (50 kilometers).

Granted, the acoustic pollution caused by sonar – particularly powerful navy systems – is greater than that from wind turbines. But wind turbine noise and infrasound are nearly constant, last as long as the turbines are in place and come from multiple directions, as in the areas where the whales were recently stranded.

On land, although the wind industry continues to deny any culpability, evidence is mounting that low frequency and particularly infrasound waves emitted by wind turbines have significant adverse effects on local residents, including sleep deprivation, headaches, tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rates) and a dozen other ailments. Underwater, a milieu where sound waves travel much farther, it would be irresponsible and unscientific to argue that whales are not affected by operating wind turbines, all the more because cetaceans use their sonar to “see” what’s around them

As scientists have pointed out, “It is likely that acoustic masking by anthropogenic sounds is having an increasingly prevalent impact on animals’ access to acoustic information that is essential for communication and other important activities, such as navigation and prey/predator detection.”

“Blinded” by this masking, whales and dolphins could seek refuge in shallow waters, away from big ships and killer whales. There, low tides could surprise them, as large pelagic species have limited experience with tidal flows.

In September 2012, 19 pilot whales, a minke whale and a large sei whale beached on the coast of Scotland opposite an area where air guns were being used by ships surveying the ocean floor, as a prelude to installing offshore wind farms. “A second pod of 24 pilot whales was spotted in shallow water by Cellardyke around the same time, but [it] returned to sea without beaching,” the article noted.

Offshore turbines were also associated with “many” stillborn baby seals washing up onshore near the UK’s Scroby Sands wind farm in June 2005. “It’s hard not to conclude the wind farm is responsible,” the author concluded.

Many more similar deaths may well have been caused by wind farms at sea. The scientific and environmental literature abounds in warnings about risks to marine mammals from man-made noise.

Modern 8-megawatt offshore turbines are 656 feet (200 meters) above the waves; their rotating blades sweep across a 538-foot (164-meter) diameter. Those enormous blades create powerful pulsating infrasound and exact a toll on many species of marine birds, and even on bats that are attracted to the turbines as far as 9 miles (14 km) offshore.

In a February 2005 letter, the Massachusetts Audubon Society estimated that the proposed Cape Cod wind project alone would kill up to 6,600 marine birds each year, including the roseate tern, which is on the endangered list.

Do we really want to add marine mammals to the slaughter of birds and bats, by expanding this intermittent, harmful, enormously expensive and heavily subsidized energy source in marine habitats?

In addition, having forests of these enormous turbines off our coasts will greatly increase the risk of collisions for surface vessels, especially in storms or dense fog, as well as for submarines. It will also impair radar and sonar detection of hostile ships and low-flying aircraft, including potential terrorists, and make coastal waters more dangerous for Coast Guard helicopters and other rescue operations.

The offshore wind industry makes no sense from an economic, environmental, defense or shipping perspective. To exempt these enormous installations from endangered species and other laws that are applied with a heavy hand to all other industries – and even to the U.S. and Royal Navy – is irresponsible, and even criminal.

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About the Author: Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for CFACT and author of Cracking Big Green and Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death.

About the Author: Mark Duchamp

Mark Duchamp is president of Save the Eagles International.

  • knowsit

    The Green Environmentalists will happily kill the very same nature that it says it protects from harm by fossile energy production

    • Dano2

      Clearly false.

      Best,

      D

      • gatekeeper96740

        Of course they will . There killing Eagles here in America and happily doing so with their idiotic wind turbines.

        http://savetheeaglesinternational.org/new/us-windfarms-kill-10-20-times-more-than-previously-thought.html

        • Dano2

          Craven and weak accusation.

          Best,

          D

          • gatekeeper96740

            The Obama administration has just given wind turbine operators the license to kill birds and eagles for 30 years, a move welcomed by the wind industry but derided by environmentalists and Republicans.
            The Interior Department changed a rule that now enables the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the amount of time renewable energy companies can kill migratory birds and eagles in a bid to boost green energy development. Wind operators can now get a permit to kill birds
            for 30 years, up from five years.

            “Eagles symbolize America’s national heritage and deserve more protection, not less. This rule change will make it harder to protect the remaining eagles that San Diegans love,” said Donna Tisdale, secretary of the environmental group Protect Our Communities Foundation.

            http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/06/feds-give-wind-farms-the-ok-to-kill-eagles-for-30-years/

            • Dano2

              Shocker – Mike Bastasch duped you. Why did you let him? Don’t you know he worked for fossil fool before expanding his anti-renewable voice at DC?

              Best,

              D

      • gatekeeper96740

        Yeah they get permits to kill them cause they already know it.

        Green Energy Producer Seeks Permit to Kill Eagles
        By Barbara Hollingsworth | November 7, 2013 | 4:37 PM EST
        Golden eagle (AP)
        (CNSNews.com) – A wind farm in the Montezuma Hills region of
        Northern California is seeking a permit to legally kill up to five
        golden eagles over the next five years even though the raptors are
        currently protected under federal law and an international migratory
        bird treaty.
        Noting that “the project contributes to California’s Renewable Energy
        Portfolio Standard goals,” the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)
        has recommended a five-year permit with additional mitigation and
        monitoring efforts, including the purchase of “conservation credits in
        an approved mitigation bank.”
        Due to the government shutdown last month, the public comment period on the permit has been extended to Nov. 12th.
        If approved, the 3,500-acre Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County, which is owned by EDF Renewable Energy,would receive the nation’s first “eagle take permit” allowing the project’s 50 two-megawatt wind turbines to legally kill the birds of
        prey without penalty. An estimated 315 birds and 258 bats will be killed by each turbine per year, according to the project’s Draft
        Environmental Assessment (DEA). (See Shiloh DEA.pdf)
        Earlier this year, a similar wind farm in Nevada faced a $200,000 fine for killing a single golden eagle without a take permit.
        http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/green-energy-producer-seeks-permit-kill-eagles

        • Dano2

          You were duped by Conservative News Service.

          Why?

          Best,

          D

  • William f

    But Paul, as you well know, in order to save the planet we have to destroy it!

  • ermom

    I’ve been asking about the danger to sea mammals, not just whales but dolphins, seals, walruses, ANY animal which uses sonar or the energy lines for migration, etc. This was after I watched, online, the CBC’s ‘WIND RUSH’. Make sure to watch it to the end, with the interviews re our human reaction to the deep sounds put out by wind turbines: that effect on our inner ears! When I thought about the complaints that Naval SONAR tests messed with whales’ sonar, I CONNECTED THE DOTS. Please take the time to watch ‘Wind Rush’. It’s free.

  • wally12

    The beaching and killing of whales has been a mystery for many years. Many of the proposed causes were attributed to the use of low frequency communications to submarines since the killings also had military operations going on near the sites. However, I haven’t read any of these problems occurring near Europe but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Like wise,since it is known that wind power installations have caused complaints from people living near on shore sites, it follows that the whales also sense a problem. After all, whales have more sensitivity to the low frequencies than humans and thus this theory is more valid.

  • kkc003

    Smart meters (EMF)s are killing humans and no one seems to care (we even import these meters from China and they have known to burn down homes!)

    GMO is killing our entire planet and no one seems to care!

    Mercury, Flouride, DDT, Thimerisol, Sacarine and other persons are put in food, water, soil and vaccinations and no one seems to care.

    So why care about the whales?

    Sad!

  • AllenBarclayAllen

    Climatards Environmentals are responsible for this as surely as the US EPA is responsible for New Pollution of the Colorado River and Lapeer Michigan Water Pollution of their water supply ! We Cannot let these people by Caveat of Scientific Stupidity, and not Democracy, run our Planet ! My suspicions have been Confirmed they are the Polluters God is Angry at in the Book of Revelations when he says his Promise He will destroy those that destroyed the earth !

    • Dano2

      Ululating hypoerbole: Climatards Environmentals are responsible for this

      Best,

      D

      • Sajehd Asi

        You got mullered on this, all you have is source slating in lieu of any actual argument.

        Apart from the fact that Green “energy” (UK wind Turbines generate enough power on average to power 20 kettles last year) scam has cut hundreds of thousands across Europe from energy supply due to the costs resulting from this nonsense, and the human cost in developing nations as their corrupt tin pot dictators swallow green fund money to spend as they wish (Mugabe blames climate change for his destruction of farming in the country)

        Climatards like you, mentally ill “cant mom and dad fix it” self hating human types are willing to see people die (like those from starvation when Biofuels took up a 3rd of US corn production and increased food costs ridiculously in the 2000s) and animals die from the mass killing of bats eagles grouse, Norway slaughters many birds, but maintains as long as the bird colony is not shrinking “it’s quite OK” and Norway has the most expensive energy in Europe..

        Doesn’t take a genius to figure out sound travels more distance in water, and doesn’t take a genius to see under water turbines create noise pollution (imagine living with a constant pulsing drone sound).

        You’re a delusional Green that tends to delude yourself into believing that any fact contrary to what you believe is the result of some skulduggery and any skulduggery by those you believe is not skulduggery but some misunderstanding.

        Best,

        A

        • Dano2

          Sure, sure..

          Best,

          D

      • Sajehd Asi

        To simplify, your preconceived conclusions come before facts, and only facts that agree with your preconceived notions are valid.

        Pretty sad way to be.

        Best,

        A

        • Dano2

          Sure, sure.

          Best,

          D

  • Karen Stickney

    No, the anti environmentalists would do that.

  • Dano2

    Although not a definite no, more likely it is sonar searching for submarines. Best to wait for something else rather than a sole source of an anti-wind activist.

    Best,

    D

  • gatekeeper96740

    The Gore Green Goblin commie cockroaches want to kill our eagles to produce “green energy” read no energy. How symbolic!

    Wind Farm Plan Means Very Expensive Electricity
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Wind Won’t Keep Us Warm
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Wind Farms Are A Lot Of Hot Air
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Scottish Wind Farms Paid To Shut Down Generation
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Massive Windfarm Threatens Eco-disaster
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Wind Is Our Least Sustainable Energy Option
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Worthless Eyesore Wind Farms Blow U.S. Off The Radar Putting National Security At Risk
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    Britain’s Wind Power High Costs
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl…The Fraud Of U.N. Agenda 21 On Being Green Only If The Wind Is Blowing
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/gl

    • Dano2

      Gore Derangement Syndrome! Drink!

      Best,

      D

    • Dano2

      Agenda 21! Drink!

      Best,

      D