To the Editor:
On the morning of Feb. 28, a comment appeared in The MV Times online feature related to the article titled ‘Vineyard Wind expects to begin turbine installation this summer.”
The commenter stated that NOAA had permitted Vineyard Wind (V.W.) to “kill” up to 20 endangered right whales. He provided a starting point to verify that “fact” to back up the claim.
When I saw this, I immediately knew that there was some sort of mistake. I thought, NOAA has “permitted” Vineyard Wind to kill up to 20 endangered North Atlantic right whales? No way, I thought, given the depth of conversation concerning wind farms and the fate of North Atlantic right whales, that this would come up in this manner in our local paper was absurd. Any rational person who has followed environmental issues for the past 60 years or the offshore wind debate for the past 20 years should have immediately known this was “fake news.” If NOAA had in fact authorized this, the administrators would have been taken out to sea and forced to walk the plank, after being keelhauled.
Suffice it to say, I was a little skeptical about that claim.
So I followed the author’s advice, and got to NOAA’s site that lists dozens of studies, regulations, procedures, definitions, and all sorts of “eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was” (–Arlo Guthrie).
It took a while, but I did find the table the author of the comment was referring to. It does indeed state that V.W. is authorized to “take” certain levels of right whales at different “harassment levels.” There are 2 types of harassment levels:
Level “A” harassment is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance, which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild.”
Note the word injure — V.W. is not permitted to have any “takes” at this level.
None, zero, nada — not a single instance of injury is tolerated, let alone a death.
Level “B” harassment is defined as having “the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.” NOAA has permitted V.W. up to 20 of these “takes.”
The assertion that V.W. has been permitted to kill up to 20 whales is wildly incorrect. It was irresponsible for the author of the comment to post it without investigating further, and negligent for The Times to post it.
I responded with the information I had found, and attempted to post a direct reply.
But between 8:33 am, when the original post appeared, and about 4:30 pm the same day, The Times’ arbitrary rule about comments only being open for seven days had kicked in, and that comment stood unchallenged until about 11 am on March 1, when I spoke to the editor. To her credit, she immediately took that untrue post down.
I know the person who wrote that comment. He is an honest, hard-working individual I respect. He is also a hunter. In the hunting world, “take” means to kill. That is not so in the marine world, when discussing maritime projects.
I can see the confusion on his part, and do not blame him. I truly think it was an honest mistake. But I think he got some information that confirmed the windmills kill whales, and stopped there. I cannot understand how the editor or her staff could have just accepted that comment at face value without verifying it.
One of the rules for comments states, “We won’t allow comments that are simply not true …”
Now I know The Times does not have the resources to check the facts of every comment, but it should have been obvious that that comment was simply not true.
For that comment to be able to stand unchallenged for even an hour, let alone more than a full day, is an egregious dereliction of journalistic integrity on the part of The Times staff.
I hope they do better in the future, and I hope that people who care to comment do a better job of fact-checking themselves.
While The Martha’s Vineyard Times has recently started allowing people to post comments on our website again — and we try to vet comments that might be inaccurate, we are not researching and attesting to them. We are privileged to host a community space for engagement and thoughtful debate, and we will do the best with the time we have. But comments on our website should be taken as just that – comments –Ed.