Environmental activists demand investigation into whale deaths at the Jersey Shore

"I've lived here for many years and I can't remember the last time I saw or heard a whale washing up on shore."

Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Environmental activists demand investigation into whale deaths
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At least four humpback whales have washed ashore along the South Jersey coast since July.

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Another humpback whale washed up at the Jersey Shore over the weekend, concerning both residents and conservationists.

At least three others have washed ashore along the South Jersey coast since July.

Atlantic City officials say the 30-foot adult humpback whale was discovered on the beach near South Mississippi Avenue Saturday, only a few blocks from where another whale washed ashore on Christmas weekend.

The whale has now been buried on the beach.

Spectators watched as scientists began a necropsy on Sunday.

Several environmental groups came together on Monday and asked President Joe Biden for an investigation into recent whale deaths, questioning if offshore wind development is to blame.

"Clean Ocean Action has been working to protect these waters for about the last 40 years and never have we ever heard of six whales washing up within 33 days," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.

A spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management noted there are currently no wind farms operating or under construction off the coast of New York or New Jersey, and would not speculate over the cause of the whale deaths.

"BOEM and the National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) have assessed the potential effects of HRG surveys associated with offshore wind development in the Atlantic. Following a rigorous assessment, NMFS has concluded that these types of surveys are not likely to harm whales or other endangered species. BOEM requires developers to use protective measures, such as protective species observers, to avoid whales during these survey activities," a statement provided to Action News said.

"I've lived here for many years and I can't remember the last time I saw or heard a whale washing up on shore," said Robin Shaffer from Ocean City.

On Sunday, a team from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in New York, which specializes in necropsies on large whales, collected samples. The samples will be studied to determine the cause of death.

"You thoroughly go through the animal, open it up, find out what happened with each organ, if you can, if everything is still intact," explained Sheila Dean, the director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

Action News spoke to Danielle Brown, a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University who researches whales in New York and New Jersey.

She says a rise in deaths could be attributed to a rise in population.

"It is concerning, especially that many of these whales have shown signs of vessel strike. But I can tell you that it does make sense because it corresponds to an increase in humpback whales that we have seen over the last decade," said Brown.

She said necropsies can take weeks or months depending on the complexity of the case and the condition of the animal.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says an unusual mortality event for humpback whales on the east coast started in 2016, and about half of the whales that washed up have been necropsied.