New project aims to protect whales while developing offshore wind energy

The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered.

Four North Atlantic right whales in a surface active group, sighted by the New England Aquarium’s aerial survey team in the offshore wind development area south of Martha’s Vineyard on March 23, 2022. New England Aquarium, taken under NEFSC permit #25739

A new partnership between conservation and renewable energy is coming to Massachusetts.

The Right Wind project, through the combined efforts of the New England Aquarium, Cornell University, and LAUTEC US, aims to help offshore wind developers protect the North Atlantic right whale.

“We’re excited to be starting this project because it gives us an opportunity to develop tools that can help reduce the potential risks of wind energy development to North Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species that numbers less than 350 individuals,” said Dr. Laura Ganley, an associate research scientist at the New England Aquarium.


If wind power development areas overlap with some endangered right whale habitats, then it could displace members of the species or disrupt feeding or socializing, according to a statement from the New England Aquarium.

And while currently, developers rely on historical data as well as real-time monitoring to understand how the animals use the waters surrounding wind development areas, the combined data from The Right Wind project will greatly improve this view.

“We ultimately want to work toward the coexistence of endangered whales with offshore wind development,” said Nick Zenkin, Research and Development Manager of LAUTEC US.

Cornell’s acoustic data and the New England Aquarium’s aerial survey data and expertise in habitat monitoring will be combined with LAUTEC’s knowledge of offshore wind planning to create an “economic trade-off analysis.”

This analysis will be used to assess solutions for balancing the conservation of the endangered species and wind power development in the areas surrounding Rhode Island and Massachusetts.


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