Scientists Tracking Marine Mammals in and around Maryland Offshore Wind Zones

A group of researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and Cornell University are investigating how the proposed offshore wind farms off Ocean City, Maryland, could affect the travels of marine mammals in the area.

Every three months, a crew of scientists and assistants rides a boat out into the Atlantic Ocean off Ocean City to do a kind of submarine surveillance and  retrieve a set of underwater microphones and data recorders from the ocean bottom and replace them with similar units.

Then the researchers return to their labs with the collected data. By analyzing data about the animals’ clicks and calls, the researchers hope to learn more about where these animals live and when they travel through these offshore waters.

This research and related new findings are expected to help answer if these creatures will be jeopardized by the construction of offshore wind turbines and can steps be taken to reduce the risks?

“‘Where in the ocean are whales?’ is a fairly basic question to ask,” said Aaron Rice of Cornell University, one of the project scientists, “and it’s kind of astonishing that in this day and age, despite the amount of attention paid to the pressures facing whales, it’s still a mystery. This will be the first time in Maryland waters that we’ll be able to get a complete, year-round picture.”

Maryland Public Service Commission is currently reviewing two bids for the development of wind farms off Ocean City submitted by US Wind and Deepwater Wind.

US Wind plans to build a 750MW offshore wind farm some 15 miles off Ocean City. The wind farm will comprise 187  turbines, installed in 20-30 meters water depth.

The project is anticipated to come online in early 2020, with an operational life expectancy of more than 25 years.

Deepwater Wind plans to construct the 120MW Skipjack wind farm some 17 nautical miles northeast off Ocean City.

If approved, local construction work could begin as early as 2020, with the project in operations in 2022.

Photo: Source: NOAA