A male humpback whale that washed ashore in Lido Beach has died, officials say. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

A male humpback whale that washed ashore in Lido Beach has died, officials said, the 10th stranding of a large whale in less than two months on an Atlantic beach — a trend that has some environmentalists concerned that sonic blasting for offshore wind turbines could be a factor. 

"This is heartbreaking," Town of Hempstead Supervisor Donald Clavin said. He estimated the adult was at least 35 feet long.

No wounds, from ship strikes or entanglements, were immediately apparent on this whale, the second humpback to beach in this state since Dec. 1, officials said. 

The string of recent whale deaths along the Atlantic coast led NOAA last week to hold a news conference to assure the public there was no evidence that sonic tests linked to the turbine work had caused the strandings.

But Newsday has reported that Sean Hayes, chief of the National Marine Fisheries Service protected species unit, wrote a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Management's lead biologist last May to express concern about one planned wind-farm’s potential impact on the endangered right whale, saying turbine development can "pose risks" to the species. 

Assessing whether sonic blasts has caused "acoustic trauma" to stranded whales "is very challenging, particularly with any amount of decomposition," NOAA spokeswoman Allison Ferreira said by email Monday. "Scientists look for bruising or trauma to the ear and other organs, but linking it to a particular sound source is difficult."

Further, necropsies do not always include a whale's ears — and scientists note that whales of course die and sink to the bottom of the ocean without ever being spotted by people.

"It's just a terrible tragedy," said Lido Beach resident Lois Robinson who was drawn to the shore Monday morning after seeing the crane being deployed to haul the whale about 60 yards up the beach, ahead of high tide at 2:30 p.m.

"We see lots of wildlife but nothing like this," she said, noting her husband has seen live whales a mile or so out when fishing.

In the New York Bight along the Atlantic coast, where shipping and fishing now intertwine with renewable energy, six species of large whales spend time, with humpbacks and fin whales the most frequent visitors, followed less commonly by the blue, sei, sperm and right whales, according to a multiyear study in ScienceDirect.

Scientists hypothesize that New York's cleaner waters are returning some of Earth's hugest creatures to these waters, along with dolphins and seals — and their prey, which might be trying to evade them by heading toward shallower waters closer to shore.

A necropsy likely will be conducted on the Lido Beach whale on Tuesday. 

"Biologists from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society are now making plans to collect data on the animal today, and are coordinating plans to examine the whale more thoroughly this week," NOAA said in a statement. 

A total of eight humpbacks have washed ashore since Dec. 1, along with two sperm whales, according to NOAA.

Humpbacks, which can grow as long as 60 feet, have been dying in elevated numbers since January 2016; NOAA has termed the 178 deaths an "unusual mortality event." 

Of the roughly half of the whales that could be examined in a necropsy since 2016, about 40% showed evidence of “human interaction,” including a vessel strike or “entanglement,” NOAA said. “To date, no whale mortality has been attributed to offshore wind activities,” NOAA said.

 BOEM, which regulates ocean energy development, contrasted the shallower "High Resolution Geophysical" surveys offshore wind developers use with the seismic surveys oil and gas drillers rely on.

The wind turbine tests, spokeswoman Lissa Eng said by email, "produce underwater sound waves that are reflected off subsea structures to obtain acoustic images of the seafloor and shallow geophysical features."

They can range in sound from 170 to 240 decibels, sending "pulse widths ranging from less than one to tens of milliseconds. according to a BOEM report entitled "Characteristics of Sounds Emitted During High Resolution Geophysical Surveys." 

Seismic surveys instead "use large arrays of air guns that simultaneously produce a sound pulse to penetrate deep (thousands of meters) in the seafloor," the BOEM spokeswoman explained. They are about as loud as a jet taking off: 140 decibels. 

Under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, anything louder than 160 decibels is harassment; above 180 decibels is considered more severe.

Referring to the high resolution geophysical surveys, BOEM said NOAA's National Marine Fisheries "concluded these types of surveys are not likely to harm whales or other endangered species."

Safeguards, the bureau said, include requiring all six lessees to submit development plans, and have safeguards, such as "protective species observers, to avoid whales during these survey activities."

Touching, feeding or otherwise harming marine mammals is barred by the 1972 Marine Mammal Act, which obliges the public to come no closer than 100 yards, NOAA said, asking anyone who sees a stranded mammal or sea turtle to call the hotline: 866-755-6622.

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