“Save The Whales” was one of the original rallying cries of the environmental movement, but in 2023’s polarized political sphere, Lavallette’s decision to place the familiar slogan on its electronic signs heading into town drew reactions from both sides of the aisle.
A day before eight dolphins died on the shore of Sea Isle City after becoming stranded – six were dead upon arrival and two had to be euthanized – Lavallette officials passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on research soundings being conducted off the New Jersey coast in anticipation of the construction of thousands of offshore wind turbines. The issue gained momentum locally after a dead humpback whale floated just off the beach in Seaside Park March 1 before washing up near the former Funtown Pier site the following day.
“It seems to have pitted some conservation groups against the other,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero, who found himself the target of derision by pro-turbine adherents.
While most Shore residents have called for the question of the moratorium on acoustic-based sea floor mapping to be a rare nonpartisan issue, in many circles it has devolved into a left-versus-right debate. Democrats have largely resisted the moratorium after campaigning on the issue of climate change and alternative energy, while Republicans have questioned their adversaries’ platform for wind generation, claiming it could have harmful effects on marine mammals and a major economic impact on fishing communities. Locally-based conservation groups, including Clean Ocean Action, have supported the moratorium, while more politically-charged national environmental groups such as the Sierra Club – which donated 100 percent of its political contributions to Democratic candidates in the 2022 election cycle – have staunchly opposed a moratorium and actively campaigned against it.
Those in favor of the moratorium have said nearly two-dozen whales that have washed up this winter, as well as a significant number of dolphins, is unusual and could be linked to the soundings. The federal government, on the other hand, has downplayed the effect the soundings could have on the marine mammal population, arguing that the radiofrequency band in which the devices operate is small, and an animal would have to swim directly into its path to be affected by it.
“I do not apologize for anything,” said LaCicero, explaining that he faced pushback after advocating that people question what they’re being told by government officials who may have a personal or political stake in offshore wind development.
“As part of the government, I think it is every American citizen’s duty to question the government,” he said. “Make us prove it to you. I don’t think the government has proven the case that what is going on offshore has not caused this issue. We passed a resolution tonight asking them to get some independent people up here and see what the problem is.”
The council voted 5-1 to pass the resolution calling for a moratorium. Councilman David Finter cast the sole dissenting vote, but said he supported the health of the whale population without elaborating.
Council President Anita Zalom said she felt more research needs to be conducted on both ends of the spectrum.
“The environmentalists are saying the ocean is warmer and the baitfish are coming in closer to shore, so they’re not used to coming in between all of those different boats,” she said. “So we have to see which is which.”