The harassment, injury, and killing of marine mammals are referred to as “takes.”
The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits incidental takes of endangered species with certain exceptions – the U.S. Secretary of Commerce fields such requests. The “taking” may be authorized if the harassment will have a “negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses (where relevant).”
The harassment is directly related to in-water noise exposure resulting from piledriving activities associated with the installation of turbines and platforms.
We know this–high-resolution geophysical (HRG) surveys used to site offshore wind turbines and transmission cabling cause harm and mortality to marine mammals. The violent noise of pounding thousands of monopiles deep into the seabed, along with an exponential increase of vessel traffic during construction and for maintenance afterward will disturb, injure, and kill marine life.
As of March 2023, NOAA Fisheries has handed out 15 marine mammal Incidental Take Authorizations (ITAs) to offshore wind projects from NC to MA. These will allow companies to “take” 111,817 whales, dolphins, and seals.
The 111,817 figure is the tally of 118 “Level A” and 111,699 “Level B” takes. Level A includes permanent hearing loss and other bodily injury. Level B harassment includes behavioral disturbance (such as frightening an animal from its normal feeding area) and temporary hearing loss.
A frightened whale that can’t hear, and “escapes” into a shipping channel has a limited chance of survival. The number of dead whales tells us this.
By the end of this calendar year, an additional approval of 1,272 Level A and 477,285 Level B takes of marine mammals for another 11 wind projects is expectedc–the approved ITA count will permit wind companies to disturb, injure, or cause the death of 590,374 marine mammals.
Level B takes for 915 critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are in process, but, there are only 334 remaining right whales. So, they have granted more “takes” than the number of live whales available to even be ‘taken’.
So far, 387 A and 21,704 B takes have been or are close to being approved for whales. These numbers include the taking of five species of endangered whales.
For dolphins, 140 A takes are approved, along with 474,605 level B takes (658 A tasks for harbor porpoise; 24,122 B).
205 A takes for harbor, grey, and harp seals, with a of total 68,553 B takes.