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Image by Thomas Kelley

Whale Communications Committee

Whale Communications Committee

The Offshore Wind Environmental Technical Working Group (E-TWG) formed a specialist committee in 2023 to develop communications materials to aid in the dissemination of accurate, readily understandable information around recent whale mortality events and the level of potential risk to whales from offshore wind energy development activities. 


This committee is developing a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) as a resource for stakeholders who are in direct communication with the general public and receive questions related to whales and offshore wind. The intent of this effort is to provide scientifically sound, accurate answers to address common questions. Given the urgency of disseminating accurate information, this FAQ resource will be updated over time to address emerging questions related to whales and offshore wind energy development.

Brief responses to FAQs are summarized on this page below, with additional detailed responses and graphics in the FAQ document.

Please fill out this survey to provide input on the topics that the committee should cover and/or indicate your willingness to provide your expertise in draft product development. For additional information on the whale communications committee or other E-TWG activities, please contact Julia Gulka.

Image by Thierry Meier

Frequently Asked Questions

Offshore Wind Development

OSW developmnt

What are the major components of an offshore wind farm?

Offshore wind farms are typically comprised of turbines, whose rotors convert mechanical energy from wind into electrical energy, and an offshore substation, which are linked to each other by a network of electrical cables. The electricity is transported onshore via export cables (which are typically buried in the seafloor) so that the energy can be integrated into the electrical grid. Turbines can either have fixed foundations, in which the foundation is driven into the seabed, or floating foundations, which have a series of anchors attached to the foundation via mooring lines. Floating turbine designs are newer and are generally deployed in much deeper waters (50-300 m, or 164-984 ft). For more detailed information and scientific citations, please see the full FAQ document.

What are the potential effects of offshore wind development on whales?

The primary factors associated with offshore wind development that may affect whales include underwater sound, vessel activities, and habitat change. Offshore wind development introduces a variety of sounds into the environment, particularly during wind farm construction, as well as additional boat traffic during construction, operations, and maintenance activities. In addition, offshore wind development could lead to changes in the habitats, which may result in either positive (e.g., creating of artificial reefs) or negative change (e.g., effective habitat loss). The potential impacts to individuals and populations from each of these changes will depend on multiple factors, including behavior, life history, population size, and habitat use. For more detailed information and scientific citations, please see the full FAQ document.

Regulatory Processes

Regulatory Process

What federal and international environmental laws protect whales?

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) protect marine mammals in United States waters. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) also regulate human activities around marine mammals and endangered species. During the OSW development process, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) oversees multi-year, multi-step regulatory processes mandated under NEPA, the MMPA, and the ESA. Some number of “incidental takes” of marine mammals may be permitted during the offshore wind development process; take means that there is a disturbance of a marine mammal, however minor in scale. Offshore wind companies are not issued permits for take in which an animal is killed or injured beyond the point of recovery. For more detailed information and scientific citations, please see the full FAQ document.

Offshore Wind Mitigation Measures


What mitigation measures are available to avoid or minimize offshore wind effects on marine mammals?

Two of the main ways that marine mammals may be affected by offshore wind development is via 1) the generation of underwater sound, and 2) vessel interactions. The main sources of offshore wind-related sounds are generated primarily by geological and geophysical surveys (during site assessment of wind energy areas) and installation of wind turbine foundations (during construction). All vessels operating on the water also pose a potential risk of vessel collisions. There are various mitigation approaches available, some of which are used by the offshore wind industry and/or other industries in various regions to help avoid and minimize these potential effects (Table 1). The effectiveness of mitigation measures depends on many factors including species, specifications/implementation, and compliance. The mitigation plan for each offshore wind project is informed by the species within the area, the geographic and environmental features of the area (such as seabed sediment type, which can influence options for turbine foundations), and the cost of the mitigation measure (Schoeman et al. 2020) and is defined by federal agencies (BOEM, NOAA), with additional approval by the International Maritime Organization required for vessel-related mitigation. Increasing our environmental, biological, and technical knowledge can lead to better decision-making and implementation of various mitigation techniques. For more detailed information and scientific citations, please see the full FAQ document.

Image by Iswanto Arif

Other Resources

There are a variety of science communications materials and science-based information available on wildlife and offshore wind energy development. In addition to the webinar library, a selection of printed resources are available here. 

Photo credits: Humpback whale © Thomas Kelley - Unsplash; Whales spout © Ryan Stone- Unsplash; Wind farm © David Will - pixabay;

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