The national office of the fraternity associated with the Greek letters spray-painted on the belly of a whale that washed onto the beach Thursday in Atlantic City issued a statement Friday calling the tagging a “reprehensible act.”
“While we don’t know if any of our members were involved, we have been in contact with the authorities and have offered our assistance in their investigations. This act is in direct contradiction with our mission statement and our teachings of friendship, chivalry and service, and we wholeheartedly condemn it,” Tau Epsilon Phi said.
The statement came as authorities continue to investigate the incident involving the minke whale found beneath Central Pier. It is one of three marine mammals to wash up on area beaches within two days. A common dolphin was found on the Atlantic City beach Thursday, and another washed up in Ocean City on Friday.
The whale’s body was too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death, and it was buried on the beach Thursday, said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
But the investigation continues into identifying whoever spray-painted the lettering onto the whale’s belly.
The NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is conducting the investigation along with the Atlantic City police.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NOAA Fisheries office in Marmora at 609-390-8303.
In addition to offering cooperation to law enforcement, Jesse Cohen, the attorney representing Tau Epsilon Phi, said Friday night that the fraternity is conducting its own investigation.
“As a national organization, we are just as appalled as everyone else about this,” said Cohen, who acknowledged markings on the whale did look like they spell out the Tau Epsilon Phi letters.
Meanwhile, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center was called to Ocean City early Friday and found a dead dolphin at Seaview Avenue about 8 a.m.
The common dolphin did not appear injured and was being transported to a lab in Trenton to join the dolphin found Thursday in Atlantic City, he said.
Schoelkopf said the washing ashore of three marine mammals is not alarming.
“This is not unusual. We have seen it all season long. Winter, fall and spring are more common for the common dolphin species,” he said. “It is more indicative of a pod of dolphins (passing by), and the sick ones get left behind and are forced onto the beach.”
Schoelkopf said the dolphins will show up on shore when they are passing through the area while following schools of the fish they feed on.
Strandings are common this time of year as dolphins start to migrate north, said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, Greater Atlantic Region.
A dolphin die-off that resulted in 1,230 strandings along the East Coast, including 135 in New Jersey, from July 1, 2013, to April 20 involved the separate species of bottlenose dolphins, according to NOAA.
No official cause for the die-off has been determined, Mooney-Seus said, adding that “we are looking very carefully at any strandings that occur and are testing the animals to see if they have the morbillivirus. The last die-off related to the morbillivirus happened in 1987, and it was about this time of year (in 1988) that we officially said (the event) was over. But there has not been any determination again that this has happened for this particular event.”
Staff Writers Steven Lemongello and Steve Hughes contributed to this report.
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