Do wind turbines suck the lungs out of bats?

My new Kindle 2 from Amazon arrived Friday, and I am thoroughly delighted with it. I have been reading constantly since then. Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: a Story of Race and Inheritance” is a can’t put downer, and I look forward to David McCullough’s “Truman.” I so enjoyed his “John Adams.”

On my Kindle, I have a trial subscription to the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper I read every day growing up in the ‘burbs. There was a piece March 1 by Gerry Smith about a mystery alarming wildlife experts. It seems that large numbers of bats are being found dead at wind farms with no visible signs of injury. Researchers think that the wind turbines cause the bats’ lungs to explode. Whoa.

Researchers at the University of Calgary reported that 90% of bats felled near one wind farm showed signs of barotrauma, or fatal internal hemorrhaging, of the lungs that occurred because of drops in air pressure near the spinning blades. This condition affects bats more than birds because bird lungs are more rigid, have one-way flow through the air sacs, and can withstand sudden changes in air pressure, according to the study published in the journal, Current Biology.

The delicate balance of life poses the question of how to go “green” without unintended environmental consequences.

Another related issue Smith brought up in his article is that coastlines and mountaintops, some of the best sources of wind, also happen to be in the path of migratory birds.

The bat deaths are causing a stir among wildlife advocates, and a partnership called the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, BWEC, is seeking ways to balance wind energy and protecting bat populations while meeting the nation’s demand for renewable energy.

Of course, there is always some organization to make light of a potentially serious issue. A 2007 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded far more birds and bats have been killed in collisions with vehicles and buildings than with turbines. Consider the recent US Air “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Wildlife experts say that bats have low reproductive rates, so even small numbers of fatalities affect their population counts. The concern over bats is fairly recent. Wildlife biologists have been focused on protecting birds from spinning turbines. Bat deaths went largely unnoticed.

In 2003, an estimated 1400-4000 bat carcasses were found at a West Virginia wind farm, as well as farms in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

This raised a chorus of voices calling for the protection of bats at wind farms. The American Society of Mammalogists called for wind farms to avoid “bat hibernation, breeding, and maternity colonies.”

Wind farms are increasing dramatically. Mandates are coming regarding percentages of electricity to be generated by renewable resources. In Illinois, this is to be 25% by 2025.

To offset the scenario of barotrauma to bat lungs, night-vision cameras found bats have also been killed by collisions with turbine blades. Several theories explain why bats would fly close to turbines. They may confuse turbines with large, dead trees that bats use to roost. Turbines may attract insects, which attract hungry bats.

The issue is not building wind farms because they harm bats, or bats will die if wind farms continue to be developed, risking extinction of a very important part of our ecosystem. It’s finding a balance, and the problem can be solved.

Article by Gerry Smith, with additional information provided by Dr. Mary


2 thoughts on “Do wind turbines suck the lungs out of bats?”

  1. Wow. Wind farms here in Aus are still relatively new. I haven’t heard anything about them causing bat deaths yet. Very interesting. Lets hope there’s a solution.

  2. Hi Brigit,

    Take wind farms from the US/Canada border south to Texas, and East/West from Iowa to Montana, and we would have all the energy in the world!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *