Offshore Wind Farms Offer Seals a Smorgasbord of Fish

Wind farms could intentionally be fashioned into artificial reefs to further increase their value to wildlife

Photo: Ashley Cooper/Corbis

Wind farms planted in the ocean appear to be doubling as artificial reefs. They attract fish seeking shelter, which in turn attract hungry seals, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The area at the base of a wind farm seems to be a vertiable refuge for ocean life. Less fishing takes place near wind farms, and those areas also have fewer potentially disruptive passing ships. 

Scientists stumbled upon this finding when they noticed that 11 of the 100 harbor seals to which they had previously attached GPS tracking units were repeatedly visiting wind farms off the coast of Germany and the United Kingdom. The turbines, the Christian Science Monitor describes, are arranged in a grid, and the seals systematically visited each one by one, following the grid as though they were exploring the streets of Manhattan. The team found that underwater pipes near the wind farms had a similar fish- and seal-attractant effect. 

The team is not sure if existing fish are congregating at the wind farms, or if the wind farms are actually helping to increase populations of prey species. If the former is true, then the unsuspecting fish run the risk of "being Hoovered up," researchers told the Christian Science Monitor. More studies are needed to determine which scenario is true. 

If it turns out that the wind farms are indeed a boon to ocean animal communities, then it could be possible to bolster their artificial reef potential by deliberately adding such features into their design.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.