Michael Shellenberger over Fox News logo with wind turbines and whales

Andrea Austria/Media Matters 

Research/Study Research/Study

Fox News is touting a dubious new documentary repeating misleading claims about offshore wind link to whale deaths

Thrown to the Wind was produced by anti-renewable energy activist Michael Shellenberger

Fox News is uncritically promoting a new documentary that misleadingly blames offshore wind projects for a spike in whale deaths and strandings on the East Coast, which was produced by an anti-renewable energy activist and features fossil fuel-tied sources.

Since Thrown to the Wind debuted on August 14, producer Michael Shellenberger, who has a history of spreading misinformation about climate change, has appeared on the network 4 times to discuss the documentary that alleges a government cover-up of whale deaths and attacks environmental groups that support offshore wind projects. 

Shellenberger’s film follows a fossil fuel-tied conservation group called Save Right Whales Coalition, which despite a lack of concrete evidence, claims that a New Jersey offshore wind project, and offshore wind farms in general, pose a threat to endangered right whales, a species of baleen whale found in the North Atlantic.

Fox’s promotion of the documentary is just the latest instance of the network elevating, as supposed experts, “conservationists” with ties to right-wing think tanks and lawmakers who oppose renewable energy — and sometimes receive fossil fuel money.

  • Shellenberger claims Thrown to the Wind proves offshore wind farms can be directly linked to whale deaths

    • Shellenberger wrote in his Substack that the film proves that “government officials have been lying” in claiming an increase in whale deaths is not due to the construction of wind turbines. He wrote that the film “shows that the wind industry’s increased boat traffic is correlated directly with specific whale deaths” and that despite government claims to the contrary, it “exposes the reality that the U.S. government agencies, and the scientists who work for them, either haven’t done the basic mapping and acoustic research to back up their claims, have done the research badly, found what we found, and are covering it up.” [Substack, Public, 8/15/23]
    • Shellenberger wrote that the documentary demonstrates that turbine-related boat traffic and high-decibel sonar mapping “are killing whales.” He said the film shows, through “acoustic research” and “correlating whale deaths with wind industry vessel traffic,” that “wind industry activities are killing whales.” [Substack, Public, 8/15/23]
  • Thrown to the Wind’s central claim that high-resolution geophysical surveying using sonar to map the ocean floor can be directly linked to the spike in whale deaths is misleading

    • Conservation ecologist Douglas Nowacek told FactCheck.org that there is “basically zero chance that those surveys have caused any mortality.” Nowacek, a professor of conservation technology at Duke University, said that much of the surveying is “way out of the range of hearing of baleen whales.” [Factcheck.org, 3/31/23]
    • Some types of sonar can harm marine life – but those technologies are not used for offshore wind surveying. While military sonar and seismic blasting used for oil and gas exploration harm whales, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said that sound produced by high-resolution geophysical surveys used by offshore wind energy companies “produce much smaller impact zones because, in general, they have lower noise, higher frequency, and narrower beam-width.” [The Guardian, 7/16/16; Texas Tribune, 1/17/23; NOAA, accessed 8/28/23]
    • Scientists say that fishing gear entanglement, vessel collisions, and the changing migration patterns of whale prey could be contributing to an increase in whale deaths. “Scientists who study whale behavior in general say it is impossible to definitively link the deaths and strandings to a single cause given the complexity of the ocean, the dramatic changes the North Atlantic has experienced in recent decades, and how much is still unknown about how these changes might be affecting baleen whales,” reports Yale Environment 360. [Yale Environment 360, 3/8/23]
    • A New Jersey-based conservation group has also found stranded whale carcasses that show signs of ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. Factcheck.org wrote: “According to data from NOAA and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals in New Jersey, some recently stranded whales showed signs of strikes and entanglements, although those events could have occurred after death.” [Factcheck.org, 3/31/23]
    • International shipping is growing, especially in New York and New Jersey, which could lead to more vessels striking whales. In 2022, for the first time in history, the Port of New York and New Jersey broke the 9 million mark for containers shipped. “The New York port has increased the number of containers moved every year since 2017, and in 2022,” CNBC reported. [CNBC, 1/25/23
    • Scientists know that climate change is harming whale populations. Scientists say that rapidly rising ocean temperatures are pushing whales’ prey, such as zooplankton and menhaden, closer to shore, putting whales in closer proximity to major shipping channels and pushing them into areas with fewer regulatory protections. [Politico, 7/19/23; The New York Times, 10/25/22]
  • Fox News is eagerly promoting Thrown to the Wind

    • Fox host Martha MacCallum said, “I recommend the documentary to everybody,” before interviewing Shellenberger. “I think one of the things that really stands out is that the government did not do adequate studies when it was rushing forward with these so-called green energy projects that are actually appearing to perhaps not be good for the planet,” MacCallum said. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/25/23]
    • Shellenberger touted the film on Jesse Watters Primetime, claiming it presents “very strong” evidence that high-decibel sounds emitted by surveying ships and construction of offshore wind farms are killing whales and that the government either has not conducted proper research on this topic or is engaged in a cover-up. “Thrown to the Wind looks at how destructive the green energy movement can be,” said Watters. “The government insists that they had done the science to show that that was not what was causing this huge increase in whale deaths,” Shellenberger said. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/21/23]
    • Shellenberger also pushed the documentary on One Nation with Brian Kilmeade, claiming it uncovered “widespread corruption, including in the U.S. government.” Shellenberger argues that the government is killing whales by using “potentially illegal levels, high-decibel sounds” that separated “mothers from their calves, resulting in starvation.” Shellenberger also claimed that his team is “working with Congress to get hearings and an investigation on this, because we think there is widespread corruption, including in the U.S. government.” [Fox News, One Nation with Brian Kilmeade, 8/19/23]
    • During an interview with Shellenberger, Fox host John Roberts suggested that the Biden administration “could be precipitating an environmental catastrophe” by promoting offshore wind projects and that NOAA is ignoring strong evidence that such projects are killing whales. “So, if your reporting is correct, in its push to quote ‘save the environment by developing alternative forms of energy,’ the Biden administration could be precipitating an environmental catastrophe among this endangered species?” Roberts asked Shellenberger, who used the appearance to accuse Greenpeace and the “conservation movement” of “lying about the science” supposedly linking offshore wind projects to whale deaths. [Fox News, America Reports, 8/18/23]
    • Fox host Martha MacCallum claimed that offshore wind farms are causing “irreversible damage” to marine life. “So this just keeps happening,” MacCallum said. “Now there are reports that two more humpback whales turned up dead on East Coast beaches, as critics question whether a factor here is the offshore wind farms that are causing irreversible damage to marine life and to the bed of the ocean where they're drilling, mostly to prepare for putting up these windmills,” MacCallum said, before playing a clip from Thrown to the Wind. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/14/23]
  • Fox News has a history of spreading anti-wind energy narratives

    • During a recent interview on Fox & Friends, Craig Rucker, co-founder of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow blamed whale beachings and strikes on offshore wind construction. “Right now, the Biden administration wants to put up 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind between now and 2030,” Rucker, whose think tank has received funding from fossil fuel companies, claimed. He then added, “I guess they believe the world is going to end in six-and-a-half years, like AOC, from climate change.” Rucker also blamed “sonar blasting” and “pile driving” during the construction and operation of offshore wind turbines for “unprecedented numbers of whales” that “beach themselves along the shores.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested that environmental activists care about protecting wildlife only when it suits their agenda. “I feel like activists, they want to save the whales, they want to save lobsters, but it kind of depends on whatever their issue is. Sometimes they want to, and in this case, they don't?” Earhardt asked. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/3/23]
    • Fox host Jesse Watters criticized New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for extending a tax credit to a Danish offshore wind developer because wind turbines “kill our whales and destroy our fishing industry.” “Murphy is using federal funds to give a billion-dollar tax break to a Danish company to build windmills off the Jersey coast,” Watters said. “The same windmills that kill our whales and destroy the fishing industry. And the view. All because he wants to go green.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 7/11/23; The Associated Press, 7/6/23]
    • Fox correspondent Madison Alsworth misleadingly reported that “conservationists” blame offshore wind energy for harming whales, but in reality, most conservation groups support new offshore wind projects. During a February 1 appearance on Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox correspondent Madison Alworth claimed that “conservationists say that offshore wind turbines are far from clean and may be doing more harm than good for the environment.” That same day, on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Alworth claimed that in addition to the fiscal costs of offshore wind projects, “conservationists” said such projects were “costing our environment even more, and we're already seeing that expense.” Meanwhile, major conservation groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace support offshore wind and have singled out Fox for amplifying “baseless claims” about offshore wind farming. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 2/1/23; Fox Business, Varney & Co, 2/1/23]
    • During an interview with Patrick Moore, who has falsely claimed to have co-founded Greenpeace, Watters said that wind turbines are “not good for the Jersey shore, for the Atlantic Ocean, and, as you said, it's not great for consumers either.” “As whales are being massacred by green tech, Greenpeace has nothing to say,” said Moore, who is a climate change denier. “... Why aren't they chaining themselves to windmills demanding they come down? They’re just sitting in their air-conditioned offices, feet up, as the whale population drops?” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/1/23]
    • Former Fox host Tucker Carlson railed against offshore wind projects and whale deaths in three separate segments which featured chyrons like “The Biden whale extinction” and “Green New Deal wind farms are killing whales.” Carlson stated that “so-called green NGOs, supported of course by the people they give money to in the Biden administration, are backing the construction of massive offshore wind turbines that appear to be killing large numbers of whales.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 1/13/23, 1/30/23, 1/31/23,]
  • The documentary relies on anti-renewable energy activists, some of whom are backed by fossil fuel money or appear to be climate change skeptics

    • Thrown to the Wind relies heavily on the work of “environment and energy activist” Lisa Linowes, who has longstanding ties to the fossil industry, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In 2018, Linowes was a senior fellow at TPPF, which for years has been “shaping laws, running influence campaigns and taking legal action in a bid to promote fossil fuels.” Linowes also has ties to the Institute for Energy Research, which has received funding from the Koch network, coal producer Peabody Energy, and the Edison Electric Institute. In 2017,  the Energy and Policy Institute discovered that a letter asking Congress to end the wind production tax credit that had been attributed to Linowes was seemingly written by an IER employee. [Energy and Policy Institute, 12/11/17; Mastersource.org, 8/8/22; The New York Times, 12/4/22; Texas Public Policy Institute, 7/13/18
    • Linowes is also a member of Save Right Whales Coalition, which was founded in part by Environmental Progress, Shellenberger’s pro-nuclear nonprofit. Save Right Whales Coalition is a group of East Coast-based organizations that oppose offshore wind projects in the area. Linowes also runs an anti-renewable energy nonprofit called the WindAction Group. [Environmental Progress, 8/13/23]
    • Linowes has appeared on Fox programs multiple times to attack wind energy in recent years. In 2021, before she joined the Save Right Whales Coalition, Linowes was an expert in a Carlson-produced anti-wind energy documentary in which she claimed that industrial-scale wind development “is not about getting us off fossil fuels.” In June 2022, on Martha MacCallum’s radio show, Linowes claimed that offshore wind turbines could drive right whales to extinction. “These turbines are almost certainly going to stress them and may wipe them off the face of the earth,” she said. However, later in the interview, seemingly contradicting her previous statement, Linowes admitted, “We do not know what the impacts will be on these species.” On Fox Business in March 2023, Linowes called the Bureau of Ocean Management’s attitude toward protecting endangered right whales “cavalier.” [Fox Nation, Tucker Carlson Originals, 10/21/21; Fox Business, The Big Money Show, 3/3/23; Fox Radio, The Untold Story with Martha MacCallum; 6/30/2022]
    • Another member group of the Save Right Whales Coalition has ties to conservative dark money groups via David Stevenson, a member of former President Donald Trump’s EPA transition team. Protect Our Coast New Jersey “belongs to the American Coalition for Ocean Protection (ACOP), which was founded by David Stevenson, who formerly served on Trump’s EPA transition team. Stevenson also heads the Center for Energy and Environment Policy at the Caesar Rodney Institute. Under Stevenson, Acop is fundraising to create a permanent wind energy exclusion zone along the east coast.” [The Guardian, 7/31/23]
    • Stevenson and the Caesar Rodney Institute have direct ties to the fossil fuel industry. Stevenson, who has publicly questioned the science of climate change, is a policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that recently sent thousands of climate-denying textbooks to teachers across the country. As Fast Company detailed, the Caesar Rodney Institute is a “nonprofit that has been backed by the conservative dark money groups Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust, along with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Energy Alliance, a fossil industry group founded by a former Enron executive.” [Fast Company, 3/1/23] [Grist, 2/6/23]
    • The acoustics expert featured in the documentary has publicly shared debunked climate change theories. Robert W. Rand of the Ocean Mammal Institute publicly supported the false claim that heat from the Earth’s core is a dominant factor influencing how the climate is currently changing. [Twitter/X, 12/30/21, 4/27/23] [USA Today, 2/14/23]
  • Shellenberger has a track record of spreading misinformation about climate change

    • In 2020, Shellenberger wrote an article in which he claimed that “climate change is not making natural disasters worse.” Facebook labeled his article as “misleading.”  [Climate Feedback, 6/28/20; Twitter/X, 6/14/23]
    • Shellenberger has downplayed the extent to which human activities are driving mass extinctions across the globe. Shellenberger has insisted that humans are “not causing a ‘sixth mass extinction.'” Climate Feedback called this a “categorical statement” that “misrepresents the discussion happening in the scientific community.” Professor Gerardo Ceballos of Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico explained that in reality, “In the last century, we lost in one year the same number of species that would have been lost in 100 years! We and other scientific groups have also shown that the extinction crisis is more severe because hundreds of millions of populations of animals and plants have disappeared in the last 40 years.” [Climate Feedback, 6/28/20]
    • Facebook added a “missing context” label to a Shellenberger post about Thrown to the Wind. Shellenberger posted a link on Facebook to a piece in which he wrote that the government was “lying” in its claim that no evidence exists linking whale deaths to “the wind industry’s high-decibel pile driving.” Facebook’s “missing context” label links to a FactCheck.org article that says that there is “no link” between “offshore wind activities” and whale deaths, although scientists “continue to study the potential risks.” [Facebook, 8/13/23; Substack, Public News, 8/15/23; FactCheck.org, 3/31/23]