Wind Industry Money Behind Media Misinformation About Whale Deaths
News media took money from big wind corporations while dismissing their links to increasing whale deaths
Increased boat traffic and high-decibel sonar mapping of the ocean floor by the wind energy industry are behind the rising deaths of whales and other cetaceans off the East Coast over the last six years and could make the North Atlantic Right whale extinct, according to researchers featured in a new documentary, ”Thrown To The Wind.” Data analyst Lisa Linowes found that increased boat traffic from offshore wind construction strongly correlates with whale deaths. Researcher Rob Rand discovered the wind industry engaging in high-decibel sonar mapping, which scientists say can split mothers from their calves, send them to poorer feeding grounds to escape the noise, and drive them into highly trafficked boat lanes where they face a higher likelihood of being struck by a boat and killed.
The people who run the U.S. government agencies in charge of protecting the whales have either conducted similar research, come to the same conclusions, and covered them up, or they had not done the research, in which case they lied to the public when they claimed to have looked into the matter and determined that the wind industry was not behind the whale deaths. Either way, the killing of whales by the wind industry and the role of the US government is one of the greatest environmental scandals in the world.
And yet the mainstream news media have to date not only failed to cover it, they have themselves spread misinformation. The New York Times’ top environment writer, Lisa Friedman, relied entirely on US government sources when she called the connection between the wind industry and whale deaths “misinformation.” AP also relied entirely on government sources when it ran an article sub-headlined, “Whale Deaths Not Linked to Wind Prep Work.” USA Today dismissed the connection as “cynical disinformation.” And the Guardian falsely suggested that conservationists raising the alarm had secret ties to “right-wing think tanks” and the oil and gas industry.
What’s more, the New York Times, the AP, the Guardian, USA Today, and most other mainstream news publications that have published articles on the North Atlantic Right Whale’s dwindling numbers either didn’t mention offshore wind construction as a potential factor or inappropriately dismissed it.
Not all mainstream media publications waved away a potential connection between the wind industry and the dead whales or dismissed all opponents of the project as lackeys of the fossil fuel industry. Bloomberg last November reported, “Planned wind projects off the New England coast threaten to harm the region’s dwindling population of endangered right whales, according to a US government marine scientist.” The reporter, Jennifer Dlhouey, even filed a Freedom of Information Act to get the information.
Dlhouey was the only mainstream reporter to report on the strongly-worded warning by scientist Sean Hayes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Additional noise, vessel traffic, and habitat modifications due to offshore wind development will likely cause added stress that could result in additional population consequences to a species that is already experiencing rapid decline,” Hayes said in his letter, which Bloomberg quoted.
The Washington Post reported on the proximity of the dead whales to the wind turbine construction. “The [dead] humpback was one of nine large whales to get stranded over six weeks on or near beaches in the Northeast, not far from where developers of hundreds of offshore wind turbines are engaged in a flurry of preconstruction activity.”
And the Post was rare among publications in at least suggesting the whale conservationists were sincere in their concern. “We have an unprecedented amount of whales dying here at the same time there is this industrial activity taking place on a scale that has never before happened in these waters,” Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, told the Washington Post. “Why is this not being investigated? Why are these companies getting a pass?”
But even the piece by the Post suggested that most of the opposition to the wind industry was coming from the fossil fuel industry, and ran articles headlined “The Value of Offshore Wind” and “An Ideal Setting For Offshore Wind Technology” about one of the East Coast wind farms.
What’s more, the Post, Bloomberg, and any of the news media organizations could have done what Environmental Progress and Public did and bought publicly available data on boat traffic and whale strandings, asked a data analyst to look for correlations, and worked with a scientist to conduct underwater acoustic measurements near a boat hired by the wind industry to map the ocean floor with sonar.
Instead, these publications promoted the wind industry. The Guardian ran an article headlined, “Winds of change: celebrating 30 years of offshore wind energy.” Politico called offshore wind a “green energy panacea” and the “key to European jobs, growth, and industrial revival.” And Reuters ran a story headlined, “Achieve 30 GW of Offshore Wind by 2030.
Why is that? Why, given the massive significance of this story, one involving the potential extinction of an entire whale species, and occurring so close to where most mainstream news reporters live, has their coverage been so biased?