Wind Farms Could Blow White Dolphin out of Water

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee held its annual meeting in mid-May, once again choosing Bled, Slovenia, as its venue. AWI’s Dr. Naomi Rose attended, focusing (as she has in previous years) on work within the Environmental Concerns Standing Working Group and the Sub-Committee on Whalewatching. Her efforts were instrumental in ensuring that the committee’s report included helpful language regarding the negative impacts of marine noise and the capture of orcas in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk for zoos and aquariums.

Prior to the meeting, Naomi spent a week in late April participating in a workshop in Taiwan to assess the impacts of several large offshore wind farms proposed for Taiwan’s west coast. Several of these projects would abut or encroach within the highly restricted habitat of the critically endangered (as designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) Taiwanese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis). The workshop—hosted by Taiwanese environmental group Wild at Heart and attended by experts from Taiwan, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—concluded that this recently identified subspecies, with fewer than 75 individuals left, faces possible extinction from multiple threats. The wind farms could well be the last straw.

Naomi presented the workshop’s deliberations and concerns to the IWC Scientific Committee and was able to get this international body to make strong recommendations, directed at the authorities in Taiwan, to practice precaution as they move forward with the wind farm proposals. Wind energy may be far superior, environmentally, to fossil fuels, but when wind farms are located offshore, there are potential negative impacts on marine life, particularly during the construction phase. When offshore wind farms are proposed for the only habitat of a critically endangered marine wildlife population, that impact could be devastating. The green energy industry, like any other industry, needs to ensure it will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

In its ongoing efforts to help protect the Taiwanese white dolphin, AWI has also been awaiting the US National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision on the petition, filed last year by AWI, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Wild Earth Guardians, to list the Taiwanese white dolphin as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). Good news came on June 26, when the agency published a proposed rule to list the dolphin as endangered. If finalized, the rule will allow the US government to work with Taiwanese authorities to strengthen protections for this imperiled subspecies. The public comment period is open until August 25. AWI will submit comments in support of the proposal.

Through our work at international forums such as the IWC Scientific Committee, workshops such as the one on offshore wind farms in Taiwan, and policy efforts such as the ESA petition to the US government, AWI will continue to do all we can to ensure the survival of the Taiwanese white dolphin.

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