Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Graffiti tagged A.C. whale died of dolphin-killer morbillivirus

The whale that washed up on the beach in Atlantic City and was spray painted with fraternity graffiti tested positive for morbillivirus, the same virus that killed 1300 dolphins along the coast last summer.

Graffiti tagged A.C. whale died of dolphin-killer morbillivirus

The famed graffiti whale - a dead Minke whale that washed up May 1 under a pier in Atlantic City and was promptly spraypainted with the letters of a fraternity - tested positive for morbillivirus, said Marine Mammal Stranding Center Chief Bob Schoelkopf.

That is the same virus responsible for 135 dead dolphins that washed up along the Jersey Coast last summer and as may as 1,300 animals up and down the coastline to Florida last year. 

Schoelkopf said the virus last summer was primarily found in bottle-nosed dolphins but that there was some inter-species crossover, including two humpback whales, a pygmy sperm whale and striped dolphins.

Schoelkopf said the Atlantic City whale had also been struck by a ship. "It may have been already dead when it was struck," he said. "That's the one somebody ended up tagging with a fraternity insignia. It had a lot of things going against it.

The letters appeared to be Tau Epsilon Phi, a Voorhees-based fraternity that later issued a statement calling the act "reprehensible."  

Schoelkopf said the case has been refered to federal authorities as the harassment of a federally protected animal - dead or alive - is a federal crime. A message left with the National Marine Fisheries Law Enforcement agency, which is handling the case, was not immediately returned.

"We have suspected there could be interspecies exchange of the virus because of the proximity of so many animals," Schoelkopf said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."

Schoelkopf said he was awaiting the results of tests of two dolphins found recently off the Jersey coast. And he said there is great concers over the impact of possible seismic testing being planned offshore by Rutgers University. 

"Now we’ll be testing all the animals for morbilli," he said. "If they go through with the testing, we'll have to be checking for seismic damage as well.

-Amy S. Rosenberg

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About this blog

Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg has covered Philly police, city neighborhoods, Ed Rendell as mayor, the Jersey shore, Atlantic City, Miss America and the psychology of Eagles fans. She moved to Ventnor on July 3, 1995, which makes her a local, but not really.

Inquirer Staff Writer Jacqueline L. Urgo has spent every summer of her life at the Jersey Shore, and has lived there year-round for nearly 30 years, even fulfilling one of her bucket list dreams by once living in a house by the sea.

Since 1990, she has covered the waterfront for The Inquirer — from the Atlantic to the Delaware Bay shore — and some of the mainland in between. Along the way, she amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of this tear-it-down-and-build-it-back-up region, delving into the history and the hype of a place with a lot of unexpected stories to tell.

Reach The Downashore at arosenberg@phillynews.com.

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