Beached Whales, False Balance, And Borrowed Environmentalism

When a whale does this, they are lunge feeding. (Photo courtesy Trisha DeVoe)

  It’s impossible that photos of magnificent, beautiful whales lying dead on beaches couldn’t elicit strong emotional reactions from those who view them. Stories that carry sadness and anger are far more likely to be shared with others, and everyone can agree that no one wants tragedies like this to happen: the whales need to be helped at all costs. But it is extremely important we don’t allow our emotional reactions to dictate our decisions. We should separate feelings from facts.

  In much of the coverage I’ve read, there’s mention of some environmental groups who are demanding an immediate halt of offshore wind development, and other environmental groups who support the development with no stops because there’s no evidence of it causing the deaths. What I haven’t read a lot of is about the quantity of groups on both sides.

  I find it incredibly admirable to see journalists give both sides of an issue an equal voice to present neutral coverage without bias, especially for political and community issues. With scientific issues however, facts must be proven. Although it hurts to see this issue happening right on our own shores, I believe most could agree that the majority of people reading on the current topic aren’t professionally trained biologists, bioacousticians or whale experts. Neither are the journalists. Politicians and the fossil fuel industry bank on this, because public misunderstanding leads to doubting the facts.

  While I have no doubt that the few environmental groups who are against the offshore development have the best of intentions and already do so much for the whales, it’s important to note the quantity of environmental groups who ARE for the offshore wind development with no stops: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Mammal Commission, Clean Water Action, Environment New Jersey, The Sierra Club, New Jersey Audubon are just some…and many of these organizations link to their open letter of support of ongoing development, with proof and explanation of why the surveying isn’t harmful, on their websites or social media. There has been NO proof by the opposing side that the surveys hurt the whales, and all the proof that there are already known killers to whales (climate change, vessel strikes, plastic and entanglement). Research shows that seismic blasting, which goes kilometers into the ocean floor, kills marine life – that’s used by the Navy and oil boats. What’s being used right now for the wind development uses geophysical survey (all sonar, no air gun, only goes a few hundred meters), is emitted in short pulses, and isn’t even audible by some marine species.

  Science isn’t a popularity contest or mere difference of opinion: science is based on evidence. To support a viewpoint with no evidence due to how badly we want to not kill anymore whales is deeply misguided and dangerous. Whale deaths have been on the rise for 7 years. Why would certain politicians, who are the greatest recipients of oil and gas companies’ lobbying expenditures, only start caring about the whales exactly when the offshore development started? The rise in whale deaths has been going on since 2016.

  As just another whale-lover whose not a scientist and invested in this ongoing issue, I wholeheartedly believe readers expressing their pleas of stopping the development have the best of intentions. Clean energy is not something the public should be driven against. Deploying low-carbon energy sources like offshore wind combats global warming: a proven threat to whales. What would be really sad is allowing more harm to whales and other marine life due to emotional reactions, misinformation, and believing politicians who are using environmentalism for their personal gain over scientists who genuinely care.

Sara Zorns
Micromedia Publications
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