The North Atlantic Right Whale is one of the world’s most imperiled animals, rapidly sliding toward extinction. Since 2017, an unusual mortality event caused by vessel strikes and entanglement has reduced their population to less than 340. The whales have sought refuge in the waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to forage and raise their young. Here they attempt to recover after giving birth to 15 calves this season.

The same waters have been offered to foreign wind farm developers by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for the development of some 1,400 turbines. Six to eight years of construction to transform the whales’ habitat floor into concrete, metal and high voltage electrical cables will subject the critically endangered animals to increased risk of collisions from new vessel trips and deafening acoustics. Some mitigation measures, such as pile driving, are required when technically feasible.

The situation for right whales is dire, and they are protected by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, perhaps the most significant environmental legislation ever passed in the U.S. It restricts activities which may jeopardize a listed species survival or degrade their habitat. For this reason, several lawsuits aim to stop the wind farm project until whale protections are in place.

In Massachusetts a bill titled An Act to Advance Offshore Wind and Clean Energy prioritizes the advancement offshore wind. The legal process should be allowed to play out before this legislation is enacted.

First, the whales and their guardians must have their day in court.

Mary Chalke