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NJ Republican Senators Hold Hearing on Whale, Dolphin Deaths

Sens. Michael Testa (R-1st)
Herald Screenshot

Sens. Michael Testa (R-1st), middle row, far left; Anthony Bucco (R-25th), top row, far right; Vince Polistina (R-2nd), top row, center; and Declan O’Scanlon (R-13th), middle row, center, hold a virtual, independent hearing, May 3, on the recent spate of whale and dolphin deaths.  

By Vince Conti

TRENTON – Four Republican state senators held a virtual, independent hearing, May 3, on the recent spate of whale and dolphin deaths.  

Sens. Michael Testa (R-1st), Anthony Bucco (R-25th), Vince Polistina (R-2nd) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-13th) presented and questioned a series of eight witnesses during the hearing that focused on the state’s offshore wind energy initiative and its potential links to a sudden and dramatic rise in sea mammal fatalities off the New Jersey coast.  

Bucco served as facilitator for the hearing. 

Witnesses at the hearing included Cindy Zipf, director of the nonprofit Clean Action Ocean; Trisha DeVoe, a biologist who works with the Miss Belmar Whale Watching business; community activist Michael Dean; Mayor Paul Kanitra, of the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach; Craig Rucker, of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow; Bob Stern, president of the Save LBI organization; Meghan Lapp, of Seabreeze LTD, a commercial fishing company; and Jim Hutchinson, editor of The Fisherman Magazine. 

Zipf, Stern, and Lapp were also witnesses who testified at the congressional field hearing held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) in Wildwood March 16. 

The focus of the hearing was the dramatic increase in whale and dolphin fatalities since early December 2022. The result was a continued call for a halt to offshore wind activities that have been singled out by state Republicans, among others, as a potential first or second cause of sea mammal disorientation and deaths. 

Polistina said, “No one can point with certainty to why” the number of sea mammal fatalities increased significantly.  

Asserting that “Cape May County is fully engaged on this issue,” Testa said the Senate Republicans are “following the science.” 

The testimony at the hearing did not stay focused on the sea mammal fatalities. Often, broader issues were raised about the impact of offshore wind on tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, and potentially disruptive impacts on navigation and marine communications. 

The witnesses dismissed the argument that sea mammal deaths were linked to ship strikes with no evidence that tied them to offshore wind preconstruction work.  

“You cannot find evidence if you do not look for it,” said DeVoe.  

She pointed to the number of sea mammal deaths in four months that she claimed were way in excess of a 20-year average of such fatalities. She also argued that whales are carbon stores that play a “vital role in reducing carbon levels.” 

Zipf made many of the same arguments she made at the Van Drew hearing: The ocean and its “vital ecosystems” are too important to risk major disruption due to insufficient environmental study prior to wind farm construction.  

She said 11 companies had been given the right to harass sea mammals as part of wind farm development activities. 

“It is plausible that wind farm activities are playing a direct or secondary role in sea mammal fatalities,” Zipf said, “yet we are greeted with an immediate denial when raising the issue.” 

Dean claimed that it was a “false argument” that the rise in sea mammal deaths predated wind farm activities. He referenced the 2016 Block Island, Rhode Island, wind turbine construction, arguing that offshore wind activity has always been coincident with the unusual “mortality event.” 

“This is just the beginning,” Dean added.  

He urged that the construction of the wind farms needs to be stopped before it begins. 

Kanitra spoke of the danger the wind farms presented to the quality of life at the shore. Claiming that the push from the state is intended to bolster Gov. Phil Murphy’s presidential run, Kanitra said the negative economic impacts from the offshore wind initiative will resonate through the state. 

Rucker dismissed what he said were the political lefts’ claims of an existential threat in the form of climate change, saying it is an argument “blown out of all proportion.”  

He argued that the “reckless net-zero policy” was doing harm and accomplishing little. 

For Stern, of Save LBI, the visual and auditory impact of the planned wind farms was unique, even in the world’s other locations that use offshore wind.  

He claimed the site selection process was flawed, even going so far as to say the completed wind farms will disrupt wind patterns so much that it will raise the temperature at the shore. 

Both Lapp and Hutchinson cited the potential harm to commercial and recreational fishing.  

Lapp spoke of “extreme levels of disturbance” that impacted sea mammals. She said Murphy and other officials knew of this high level of disturbance but considered it acceptable collateral damage for what she called their “radical agenda.” 

Hutchinson spoke of the “severe adverse impact” offshore wind will have for the recreational fishing industry. They spoke of the impact of the wind farms on fish behavior. He also argued that the wind farms will make navigation problematic, saying that the radar systems will not work inside the farms. 

As the over two-hour hearing came to a close, O’Scanlon said he found the information presented “fascinating and compelling.”  

Bucco characterized the offshore wind process as one that is “not fair, open, or transparent.”  

He added that “common sense dictates a pause” in offshore wind activity. 

Testa made an argument he has made before, “We have one chance to get this right or colossally wrong.”  

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.  

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