On Endangered Species Day, Right Whales Remind Us to Work Together

Today’s climate crisis drips with urgency. Stories of species loss and habitat destruction roll in, and repeatedly underscore the reality of how quickly we need to get our act together and comprehensively address climate change.

North Atlantic Right Whale (flickr/MyFWC Research)
North Atlantic Right Whale (flickr/MyFWC Research)
I highlight comprehensively because today is Endangered Species Day, and this seems the perfect day for a conversation on a key layer of any set of climate solutions we employ moving forward: their systemic impacts on wildlife and their habitats. The best solutions are holistic, effective, and swift.

By way of celebration, let’s turn to a shining example. With climate change as a leading threat to wildlife, it is increasingly critical that we transition to clean and renewable energy sources and stop filling our air and water with dangerous pollution. NWF strongly advocates for the development of offshore wind energy projects in America’s waters. There is incredible potential along our Atlantic coastline to generate clean, renewable energy and it is time for us to start investing in this plentiful resource.  Of course, all energy development has some impact on wildlife habitat and our staff is actively working to ensure wildlife are protected as we pursue this critical clean energy source.

How could offshore wind development impact the severely endangered North Atlantic right whale?

With a global population estimated between 350 and 400 individuals, loss of even a single North Atlantic right whale stands to impact the survival of the species. Highly sensitive to underwater sounds, the surveying process typically employed for offshore wind projects could well disorient or disrupt the whales as they migrate through the area of the mid-Atlantic that has been designated for offshore wind development. Straying from their path could send travelling mothers and calves into harm’s way. NWF takes endangered species conservation very seriously, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work in search of a solution.

Thanet Offshore Wind Farm, England's southeast coast (flickr/nuon)
Thanet Offshore Wind Farm, England’s southeast coast (flickr/nuon)
In December 2012, conservation groups and wind developers came to the same table and signed a landmark agreement designed to both protect whales and advance a critical new clean energy source for America. NWF, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council led a comprehensive effort with concerned industry leaders at Deepwater Wind, Energy Management, Inc., and NRG Bluewater Wind to design a strategy that ensures right whale protection during the survey and assessment phase of construction. The three developers signed the agreement, voluntarily committing to employ its protective measures as they move to tap into this essential new energy resource.

This agreement has a lot to say. Yes, it gives those of us concerned with wildlife protection an opportunity to advocate for an energy solution knowing that the wildlife we care about are being protected.  And yes, it confirms that the wind industry can lead a responsible transition away from fossil fuels.  It also says something much bigger: that when we come together and discuss overlapping challenges with a shared goal in mind, something truly sustainable can come out of it—a whole solution, far stronger than the sum of its parts.

With a mission to protect wildlife for our children’s future framing all that we do, responsibly sited offshore wind development is the only kind we will advocate for.  Thanks to bold industry leadership and the immeasurable benefits of innovative collaboration, that will be quite alright.

Take Action Button

Speak up for right whales, sea turtles and other endangered wildlife! Tell the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to move forward with efforts to develop offshore wind energy off the Atlantic Coast with strong measures to protect wildlife.