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SCB Recommends Additional Conservation Measures to Protect Right Whales as U.S. Offshore Wind Industry Develops

December 3, 2012. On behalf of its Marine Section, SCB submitted formal comments on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) proposal to begin leasing an area south of Massachusetts on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for the purpose of wind energy development.  SCB noted the importance of using the most recent conservation science in assessing the full range of benefits and impacts to wildlife, including studies from the United States on the effects of underwater anthropogenic noise in the marine environment, and studies from Europe where offshore wind farms are already present.  

SCB’s comments on the environmental assessment (EA) for the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area note that despite BOEM’s determination that a portion of the Wind Energy Area may be sited in close proximity to an important migratory corridor and feeding areas for North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), BOEM has preliminarily chosen to move forward with leasing the entire wind energy area as its preferred alternative. 

SCB is concerned that BOEM may be putting the right whale at greater jeopardy of extinction.  Increasing evidence indicates that chronic exposure to anthropogenic noise between 120-160 decibels (dB) harms marine mammals, including the right whale. Permitting wind leasing activities, which is anticipated to result in over 6,500 vessel trips in the proposed leasing area, may represent a violating of Section 7 of the ESA, which includes a process to minimize harm to listed species and requires all federal agencies to ensure that their actions will not jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species.

Given the suite of anthropogenic threats that the right whale faces from commercial fisheries, collisions with large vessels, military training activities, and possible offshore oil and gas exploration activities, SCB recommends that BOEM adopt Alternative B, the right whale exclusion alternative, which protects those areas most frequently used by right whales from any leasing and survey activities.  In addition, SCB recommended the following additional conservation measures to protect the right whale:

  1. Prohibit High Resolution Geophysical Surveys in Months when Right Whales are Present (November 1 through April 30) and prohibit surveys when Dynamic Management Areas are in effect.
  2. Limit Ship Speeds to 10 knots at all times for ships of all lengths, including during transits from port of departure to the wind energy area.
  3. Require three observers at all times for all leasing and site assessment activities on all ships.
  4. Require that wind energy developers fund additional monitoring in the wind energy area.

Read SCB’s full comments HERE.