At least 18 whales have been found dead along east coast shores since December 1. Approximately 83 died in 2023, 80 in 2018, and more than 90 in 2017. Compare this to only 55 deaths in 2007. 

All whale deaths are tragic, but the sudden uptick since 2016 is alarming. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding who or what is to blame.

Plenty of fingers point to the offshore wind industry, though there hasn’t been an official link. The renewable energy source’s proponents are quick to deflect and attribute the deaths to climate change. While the first U.S. wind turbines began in 2015, most projects hadn’t commenced until several years later. However, there is little proof of climate being a factor either. Basically, offshore wind is largely given a free pass.

One of the more concerning aspects surrounding the sudden rise in deaths is the dramatic decline in the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale species, which has seen its numbers drop down to a dangerous 350. A decade ago, it was over 450, having made a remarkable recovery from the threat of extinction in the 1970s.

Even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that Right Whales’ critical habitats are off the New England and southeast coasts of the U.S. NOAA’s website also recognizes numerous threats facing this species including “vessel strikes, climate change—which may alter their migratory patterns and feeding areas—and the impacts of ocean noise on their ability to communicate, find food, and navigate.”

With a mission promising to “conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources,” NOAA partners with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) obligation to ensure development is done “in an environmentally and economically responsible way.”

NOAA chief of protective species Sean Hayes sent a letter to BOEM’s lead biologist in May of 2022, expressing deep concern regarding significant risks the development of offshore wind poses to North Atlantic Right Whales. The “chronically stressed” mammals are “food resource-limited,” and “additional noise, vessel traffic, and habitat modifications due to offshore wind development will likely cause added stress.” Hayes emphasized the critical need “to assess the range of impacts/threats and stressors to protected species and the degree to which they can be mitigated” before any offshore wind project moves forward. 

Hayes’ pleas went largely unanswered.

Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind project in America to be issued an environmental permit, officially began operations in January. Located off the shores of Massachusetts, it plans to eventually have 62 total turbines. 

New Jersey, which experienced 14 whale deaths in 2023 alone, has received a lot of pushback from residents concerned about the ecological ramifications of its two pending wind projects. While Norwegian wind company Orsted canceled their contracts and withdrew last fall, only on account of skyrocketing capital costs and supply chain issues, the garden state secured new developers early this year. An undeterred Governor Murphy has been dead-set on moving forward.

People remain concerned that not enough is being done regarding the influx of whale deaths. There’s even speculation of corruption or conflict of interest within whale death investigations.

The documentary, Thrown to the Wind, sheds light on a possible money trail between the network of organizations responsible for investigating marine mammal deaths and individuals who serve on their boards. Roughly half the current board at The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, for instance, appears to benefit from offshore wind because of ties to various renewable energy companies. Paul Tonna, the board president, has been a lead lobbyist for Equinor, a wind developer. 

It is certainly difficult to pinpoint a direct link between offshore wind and increasing whale deaths, and climate change may be a culprit; however, it should be apparent that adding more disruption to marine habitats through the exploration, surveying, and construction processes of wind projects is potentially destructive. For one, the surge in vessel traffic on ocean waters creates more opportunities for whales to be struck. 

Many offshore wind enthusiasts want to immediately move forward at all costs, claiming that building turbines will actually save the whales from climate change. And yet, wind energy only comprises ten percent of all U.S. electricity and produces maximum power roughly 35 percent of the time, making it the second least reliable energy source. If it is emissions reductions we are seeking, better options exist. 

Elected officials are quick to cancel or restrict projects they deem unworthy, often citing threats to ecological habitats and climate. Biden halted LNG exports for political reasons. He is also blocking or limiting drilling in 15 million acres in Alaska to “ensure that important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears and other wildlife will be protected in perpetuity.” 

It seems there are double standards when it comes to various energy sources; wind projects are subject to lax regulatory restrictions compared to fossil fuels.

The sudden increase in whale deaths warrants more thorough and rigorous investigations. And the potential impacts offshore wind places on these magnificent creatures demands more critical analysis.

Offshore wind needs to be held to a higher standard.

Kristen Walker is a policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.