Science & Technology



Whales navigate a perilous route off the NJ Shore

Frank Kummer, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Science & Technology News

At any given time, 50 or more vessels, ranging from massive cargo ships to small fishing boats, are motoring off New Jersey's 127-mile coast from New York to Delaware.

The smaller vessels often travel at just a few knots per hour, while larger ones run to 20 knots (23 mph) or more.

Little wonder whales sometimes crash into one of them, receiving what amounts to giant-sized headaches or fatal blows.

Two whales that died in January and were stranded in Atlantic City and Brigantine showed evidence of blunt force trauma associated with vessel collisions. Opponents of offshore wind have suggested survey vessels are to blame, but officials suggest otherwise.

Walt Nadolny, a professor emeritus at SUNY Maritime College in New York, has been teaching students for two decades how to avoid whale strikes before they head to sea as merchant mariners.

"The odds are ridiculously low" that the whales struck a slow-going survey vessel, said Nadolny, who has no affiliation with an offshore wind company.


Orsted, a global offshore wind company that started in Denmark, is set to build New Jersey's first wind farm but has not started construction. In January, it has had one vessel at a time on the water totaling little more than seven days.

Nadonly surmises that it's highly unlikely an offshore wind surveying vessel, which normally would travel at 8 to 10 knots (9-11 mph), could cause a fatal blow to a whale. Rather, he said, fatal collisions typically occur with bigger ships traveling at least 18 knots (21 mph) or more. Usually only large commercial ships travel that fast.

For example, on Friday morning the Maersk Pittsburgh container ship with a gross tonnage of 74,642 was traveling off the coast of Long Beach Island from New York City to Charleston at almost 21 knots (24 mph), according to tracking provided on Multiple other container ships were traveling at similar speeds.

Many of those fast ships, Nadolny noted, often come from, or are headed to, the busy ports of New York/New Jersey or the Delaware Bay toward Philadelphia. The ships are required to reduce speed only as they near the ports, but they often follow voluntary speed restrictions farther out.


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