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Whale graffiti update: Graffiti on 15-foot whale sparks outrage, health concerns

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The whale graffiti incident of a 15-foot-long dead Minke whale has sparked outrage not just for one, but several reasons. The Minke whale had washed ashore under Atlantic City's Central Pier and its purple graffiti showed the Greek letters TEP, which appear to represent Tau Epsilon Phi, a fraternity that has chapters at several area schools, reported The Telegraph from Britain on May 4.

The dead animal was discovered on Thursday morning around 8 a.m. during a routine beach walk along New Jersey’s shore, and according to Bob Schoelkopf of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the whale had washed ashore during a strong storm, showed no signs of trauma, and appeared to have been dead for several days. Unlike other items that the storm had tossed onto the beach, this one had been additionally tagged with graffiti.

According to a New Jersey News report, the graffiti found on the whale -- Greek letters that seem to belong to the fraternity Tau Epsilon Phi – were also found on the pier. Tau Epsilon Phi corresponds to the New York-based fraternity which has chapters at Rowan University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers University. The Greek letters TEP were followed by what appears to be the numbers “94.”

The graffiti on the dead whale and on the pier, which police determined was not gang related but rather affiliated with Tau Epsilon Phi members, is being called a “reprehensible act” by the fraternity. As reported by The Telegraph, Spokesman Jesse Cohen says that even though it has not been confirmed that Tau Epsilon Phi members were involved, the fraternity considers the graffiti “contrary to its teachings and is cooperating with authorities.”

Besides the fraternity, other people agree that marking a dead animal is disrespectful behavior towards nature. Bob Schoelkopf of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center commented that whales, dead or alive, are federally protected animals. “To do a dead animal, that's ridiculous.” And other readers agree. “Some young people who think that some graphiti is okay especially on a deceased mammal? These kids are just showing how uncaring and immoral they really are; all animals (and humans) deserve some respect even when they are dead. What kind of society are we when we fail to teach our kids respect?”

While some people are outraged that a federally protected animal was marked with letterings, others are more upset about the fact that the dead animal was buried by the city's public works crew just eight feet beneath the beach near Atlantic City's Central Pier. Apparently, “the Marine Mammal Stranding Center attempted to conduct an autopsy of the whale to determine the cause of death, but it was too decomposed, and buried on the beach.”

On the same day that the dead whale was found, a dolphin was found just a few blocks away on Indiana Avenue. And a day later, another dolphin was found in Ocean City. “Last summer, 93 dolphins washed up along the Jersey Shore, hit with cetacean morbillivirus.” Cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV) is a virus that infects marine mammals including dolphins, porpoises, and whales. It is in the same family as the virus that causes measles in people. Symptoms of infection are often a severe combination of pneumonia, encephalitis and damage to the immune system, which greatly affect the marine animals’ ability to swim and stay afloat.

According to a National Geographic report, the Cetacean morbillivirus was responsible for the strandings of hundreds of dolphins along the U.S. East Coast in 2013. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries “are warning the public not to approach stranded dolphins [or any other marine mammal] as they could have secondary bacterial or fungal infections that could pose a risk to people, especially those with open wounds.”

Ultimately, the whale graffiti incident is causing uproar not just because some kids made their “I was here” mark on a dead whale, but because they failed to report the dead animal. If the kids would have reported the dead marine animal to authorities, scientists could have done a timely biopsy and find out if the whale had suffered from CeMv. Any animal, even if dead, can be dangerous to humans. They should be approached with caution – not graffiti.

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