By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
Protect Our Coast NJ, an independent grassroots organization opposed to offshore wind farms, will hold a rally Thursday at the Trenton State House Annex to demand that Gov. Phil Murphy stop the projects until the cause of a surge in whale deaths is determined.
Suzanne Hornick, of Protect Our Coast NJ, said the group will be presenting the petition to state legislators at the rally at 9 a.m.
Keith Moore, of Defend Brigantine Beach, another coastal group, said the petition has collected more than 500,000 signatures online.
Numerous advocacy groups, some formed to address what they call the “transformative industrialization” of the ocean, have been speaking out against the construction of offshore wind energy farms.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose district includes the shore towns of Atlantic and Cape May counties, has introduced a resolution calling for a congressional investigation of the potential negative impacts of offshore wind development. The resolution demands the halt of wind farm activity pending an investigation of the cause of the whale deaths.
Since December, at least 30 dead whales have washed up on the East Coast shoreline, including 10 in New Jersey. Last week, eight dolphins beached themselves in Sea Isle City. Two of the dolphins died almost immediately, while six others were euthanized after their condition deteriorated.
On Friday, a badly decomposed pygmy sperm whale that had apparently been dead for months washed ashore on the beach at 49th Street in Ocean City.
The flurry of mostly humpback whale and dolphin deaths has raised suspicions that sonar mapping of the seabed for a series of proposed offshore wind energy farms may be confusing the mammals and causing their deaths.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine concluded that most of the humpback whale deaths were caused by vessel strikes after finding injuries on the mammals consistent with ship collisions.
NOAA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection are among the government agencies that dispute any connection between the wind farms and the dead whales.
“As of March 2023, no offshore wind-related construction activities have taken place in waters off the New Jersey coast, and DEP is aware of no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality,” the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement.
Renowned sand sculptor John Gowdy is in the process of creating a life-sized whale sculpture on the beach at Suffolk Avenue in Ventnor to raise awareness of the whale deaths.
Ventnor’s Board of Commissioners on March 23 gave Gowdy permission to build the sculpture and will allow the Public Works Department to move sand on the beach for its creation.
Gowdy said he is trying to bring light to the deaths of whales and dolphins “without pointing fingers” and the “ugliness of windmills on our horizon.”
“We need to come together in front of a whale carved in sand and talk about it,” he said.
Gowdy said he would like to hear from advocates on both sides of the issue, including those who support offshore wind development, as a way to address the devastating effects of global warming.
“Even people who are pro-windmills are invited, although some may feel like they won’t get a warm welcome,” he said.
The sculpture will be huge – 45 feet wide and 9 feet tall, he said. There will be a platform on top where advocates can speak.
Gowdy said he called his entertainer friend John Higbee to write a song about the whales. Higbee will perform his song, “Save the Whales,” at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 1. Speakers will follow and when they are through, Higbee will perform the song again.
Gowdy said he can use some help and is calling on the arts community to help build the sculpture between now and April 1. The rain date will be April 2.
The sand sculpture is located on the beach at Suffolk Avenue to the left of the new Ventnor Beach Patrol Headquarters.
Ventnor Mayor Lance Landgraf asked the community to support the event.
“The effort to put these offshore wind turbines should be put on hold until we find out what’s happened. It’s critical to our community and region, and we want to make sure we are doing the right thing,” Landgraf said.