Are wind farms killing whales?

Potholer54 always does skepticism well. Here, he’s looking into the claim that whale deaths are correlated with the presence of wind farms, and the answer, in short, is “no.” Although industrial noise is uncomfortable/stressful for whales, it’s not just wind farms that we should be looking into.

It’s also a thorough exposé of Michael Shellenberger. Shellenberger doesn’t understand what “correlation” means, he’s selective in his choice of causes (windfarms bad, oil exploration good), and he’s an expert in the conservative shell game of hiding the sources of his funding. Don’t trust a thing that man says.

You will not be surprised to learn that he is currently the CBR Chair of Politics, Censorship and Free Speech at the University of Austin. Yeah, that University of Austin. He claims to be an “environmental activist,” but he’s not — he’s a right-wing shill for the oil industry.


  1. Matt G says

    Wasn’t there a pro-logging group called Friends of the Forest or something similar? The dishonesty of these groups is staggering.

  2. Silentbob says

    It’s funny/not funny when I was young “save the whale” was a phrase used by the right in mockery.

    Instead of saying “pronouns in bio” or “woke” or whatever they’d say “one of those ‘save the whale’ types”.

    Ironic, eh?

  3. anxionnat says

    Yeah, it was “tree-hugger” when I was in college (early 70s.) Funny, though: when my nephew was little, in the early to mid-90s, when we’d go hiking up in the hills, he’d spontaneously go and hug trees, and say, “Oh, tree. Grow tall and green!” I never even suggested that–it was just him doing his thing.

  4. stuffin says

    I live at the Jersey Shore, and I read the all the news articles regarding whale deaths/strandings along the eastern seaboard. My wife is a CADD operator (draftsman), and her company has a contract to do some environmental work regarding the placement of the transmission lines. Also, there is a Republican leaning group here at the shore who is opposing the wind farms. Because this has an effect on my wife’s employment, I keep track of the situation. The protest groups have not provided any solid evidence the work on the wind farms, or the wind farms themselves as having a direct effect on the whales. Based on the news I’ve read, a good portion, maybe 25 or 30%, of the whales have died because of injuries they suffered from propeller strikes. Many of the other causes were unknown or from diseases but I have never read one article that links the whale’s problems to the wind farms. I would be interested to see a study on the known causes of whale deaths/strandings.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    It reminds me of the 1970s book “The Jupiter Effect” where someone used tablets of… something…shoving tablets of….something else with correlations “proving” the planetary alignments in the late 1970s might cause the Earth’s rotational axis to flip over. The book sold well which fulfilled its primary objective of making money.

  6. muttpupdad says

    Entanglements count for more deaths than wind farms and cover a wider range. But you will not hear of this because Big Fish and Lobster will use the influence to cover it up. Just showing that there is always more to the story than what the owners want you to know.

  7. robro says

    Of course the decline of whale populations have a lot more to do with over-hunting than any other factor.

    I saw a snippet of a BBC video the other day about the correlation of the decline of whale populations from their historic levels and the decline of the population of the things whales feed on like krill and phytoplankton. It wasn’t David Attenborough but someone who sounded a lot like him…as an English friend said probably from the same school.

    Anyway, the question was why should their prey’s populations decline as the whale populations decline instead of increasing. The gist of the assertion was that whale behaviors, such as churning the water and releasing fecal plumes at shallow depths, contribute to the ecosystem for these things to thrive.

    The video went on to suggest that the correlation of these population declines, particularly phytoplankton, with global warming might be addressed…in part…by simply letting whale populations return to their historic levels. I don’t know if it would really help, but not killing whales seems like a good idea.

  8. AstroLad says

    @5 I believe the primary predictions of “The Jupiter Effect” were gigantic earthquakes, and large solar flares. I never read it, but I contributed the computer work to a 1973 paper by Peter Sturrock of Stanford, and Gerry Van Hoven of UCI, debunking the solar flare “hypothesis”. As I recall, Prof. Sturrock had, or tried to bet the authors about the outcome. Never heard if he collected.

  9. says

    O.K. I’ll make myself a potential ad hominem target one more time. I don’t have time to search our archives right now. But, I’m certain that I read that massively powerful navy sonar was injuring cetaceans and other marine animals, especially those that used echo-location. We see too many reports of beachings of whales and I wonder if some of that is caused by such injuries. I am almost certain that the beachings of cetaceans is due to some form of human ‘contamination’ of their environment. And I’m sure #4 stuffin is correct that many (including many manatees in the ‘wonderful’ state of floridumb) are killed by propeller strikes. I am convinced by credible articles I’ve read that ‘wind turbines’ are the among the least in the list of dangers that whales and birds face. To paraphrase Bob Dylan: ‘One answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind’.

  10. says

    Sadly Shellenberger used to be an articulate, likeable advocate for nuclear energy, and briefly helped one of the few young, non-caucasian, women in that field build her own advocacy organisation, focussed especially on the social justice aspects of climate change impacts and access to affordable energy in the developing world, so kudos to him for that. But from my interactions with him I’ve found he the evidence he cites in support of his views seems to be chosen or interpreted to suit his beliefs rather than the reverse.

  11. bcw bcw says

    There have been substantial studies of the effects of sound on whales because of concerns about Naval and oceanographic sonars and air-guns. A number of conclusions:
    1. the ocean is noisy to begin with. Whales, make a lot of noise themselves with the big whales really loud. Whale calls propagate hundreds of miles. One thing to keep in mind is that the dB scale measures wave energy while eardrum damage is driven by displacement which is more than 1000X smaller in water.
    2. The one clear killer of whales is the loudest Navy sonars and seismic test systems which are at high frequencies in the range the small beaked whales use for echolocation. These sonars likely deafen and kill beaked whales.
    3. Lower frequency sounds like airguns do not appear to distress whales as whales have been observed to show curiosity when they start but then lose interest. The bigger whales make sounds louder than man made sources in the low frequency range. As a precaution, oceanographic seismic studies not use phase sound source arrays which point downward and studies are stopped when whales are seen nearby.

  12. bcw bcw says

    Michael Shellenberger is quite a character. He started out as a leftist but has cashed in by forming the “Breakthrough Institute,” a fossil-fuel-funded group whose premise is that doing anything about global warming will destroy the economy but that there is going to be some special “breakthrough” through science that will make everything OK.

  13. bcw bcw says

    @13 typo, last line should be: As a precaution, oceanographic seismic studies use phased-sound source arrays which point downward and studies are stopped when whales are seen nearby.

    Basically the frequencies used depend on the spatial resolution needed. High frequencies are used by the Navy to see stuff hiding on the ocean floor. Somewhat lower frequencies for shallow bottom structure imaging like for wind farms. Low frequency for seismic and Oil search bottom structure. Higher frequencies matter more.

  14. silvrhalide says

    Pollution and entanglement from fishing gear seems to be a far greater driver of whale mortality than noise. Garbage is everywhere. Noise is local.,what%20little%20food%20she%20can.&text=A%20beached%20whale%20found%20in,common%20threat%20to%20marine%20wildlife.

    A beached whale found in the Philippines on Saturday died with 88 pounds of plastic trash inside its body, an unusually large amount even by the grim standards of what is a common threat to marine wildlife.

    The 1,100-pound whale, measuring 15 feet long, was found in the town of Mabini with plastic bags and a variety of other disposable plastic products inside its stomach. Darrell Blatchley, owner of the D’Bone Collector Museum in Davao City, attended a necropsy on the whale and called it the worst collection of plastic inside an animal he had ever seen.

    “The plastic in some areas was so compact it was almost becoming calcified, almost like a solid brick,” said Mr. Blatchley, who has seen other marine mammal post-mortems. “It had been there for so long it had started to compact.”

    Ingesting plastic gives whales a false sensation of fullness without providing any of the nutrients they need. It leads to reduced weight, energy and swimming speed, making them more vulnerable to predators. They have no way of digesting or expelling the plastic.
    The whale’s grisly death brought renewed focus to the worldwide problem of plastics ending up in oceans; a 2015 study estimated that five million to 13 million metric tons of plastic waste pollute oceans each year. But the problem is particularly severe in the Philippines, the world’s third-biggest contributor of plastic to oceans behind China and Indonesia.

    Joel Palma, the president and chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature in the Philippines, said there was no single factor causing the Philippines’ outsize plastic pollution. Single-use plastics are cheap and ingrained in the culture, recycling is difficult and there is a patchwork of local laws, among other challenges.

    What is certain, he said, is the need to consume less.

    “We’re wasting a lot more than we should be,” he said.
    Hundreds of animal species are in danger when plastics end up in bodies of water, but whales tend to attract more interest because of the large quantities they can hold in their bodies. A whale found in Spain in February had 64 pounds of trash in its intestines and stomach. One found in Thailand in June 2018 had consumed 18 pounds of trash, while one found in Indonesia in November had ingested 13 pounds of plastics.

    Mr. Blatchley said he could see a vivid example of the problem near his museum. A sign by a canal advertises a 10,000-peso fine — about $190, well more than a month’s salary on the Philippine minimum wage — for anyone who litters, but the canal is still “a foot deep with plastic garbage.” There’s little enforcement of the laws that exist, he said.

    “Everybody acts like it’s somebody else’s problem,” he said.

    I notice how carefully WashPo didn’t give the origins or likely source of the large quantities of rope. Guessing they don’t want to piss off Big Fishing advertisers. Kind of like “shots were fired”. Really? All by themselves, there was no active agent involved?
    Unless the whale in question flopped ashore, ate a hardware store and flopped back out to the ocean, I’m guessing that boats and fishing were the likely source.

    Let’s not forget that (micro)plastics are in us now too. Ditch the plastic, save the planet, save yourself.

    Given how much the ocean is warming, I’m wondering how much of a role pathogens are playing in whale mortality, both as a driver of diminishing the whales’ food sources and as a direct cause of whale mortality.
    Demoic acid poisoning is already showing up in shellfish and the animals that eat them, due to the warmer temperatures. Wondering now if it is already affecting whales and no one has figured it out yet. And that’s just one pathogen.

    Report a Stranding
    The most important step that the public can take to assist investigators is to immediately report any sightings of injured or stranded whales (dead or alive). In the United States, call the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (866) 755-6622 or the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at (877) 433-8299.

    In Canada, call the Marine Animal Response Society at (866) 567-6277 or the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network at (877) 722-5346.

    You can also contact the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards on VHF Channel 16. Do not approach injured or dead animals.

  15. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    WKUK – Ocean 2.0 (2:00)

    Maybe fascinating new marine life will evolve: like fish that can breathe oil, or a bird that likes being sticky. It’s how we at Unified Petroleum are helping to… reimagine the world’s oceans. […] They say that oil and water don’t mix. But dammit if we’re not trying!

  16. birgerjohansson says

    The unneccessary deaths of right whales is extra tragic as they can survive for up to two centuries.
    As they reach maturity they seem to have no enemies, so evolution has been allowed to go to work on extending their life spans.

    This is BTW an exra argument for the explanatory power of evolution.
    Animals without enemies have a longer maximum life span.
    Naked mole rats, some deep-living species of rock fish.

  17. StevoR says

    @5. birgerjohansson & #8. AstroLad :

    The Jupiter Effect is a 1974 book by John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann, in which the authors predicted that an alignment of the planets of the Solar System would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, on March 10, 1982.[1][2][3] The book became a best-seller.[4] The predicted catastrophes did not occur.[5] …(snip).. In his book, The Little Book of Science (pub. 1999), Gribbin admitted about his “Jupiter Effect” theory “…I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”[9]

    Source :

    That best seller (vomits) also got a sequel :

    a lesser-selling book, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered.[4][8] In it they theorized that the effect had actually taken place in 1980, despite the lack of planetary alignment then, and that it had triggered the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens.


    Plus even a film :

    A film version titled The Jupiter Menace was released in 1984, directed by Lee Auerbach and Peter Matulavich, and hosted by George Kennedy. The documentary features interviews with Stephen Plagemann, Jeffrey Goodman and John White (author of Pole Shift), It also includes Biblical prophecy, planetary alignments and survivalism. These topics are covered by interviews with CSA leader James Ellison, psychics Clarissa Bernhardt and Alex Tanous, and members of the Stelle community. The film’s soundtrack was composed and produced by Larry Fast, under the name Synergy.[11]

    Jeff Johnson (musician) and Sandy Simpson released a song called “The Jupiter Effect”[12] on their 1982 album, Through the Door.

    Ibid again and nice demonstration of crank magnetism at work I guess?

  18. says

    Here’s something I posted in Mano Singham’s blog, and I figure is also relevant here:

    Another thing I noticed about this anti-trans-healthcare hysteria, is that that “release” of “leaked conversations” from WPATH, mentioned earlier, was done by an astroturf environmental group called Environmental Progress, which was founded by pro-fossil-fuels hack — oops, I mean Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” — Michael Shellenberger. This fact alone doesn’t prove the WPATH leaks were false or fabrications, of course; but it does cast a bit of doubt on the credibility of that whole enterprise.

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