ATLANTIC CITY A two-ton minke whale that washed up dead under a pier was given a further hazing: a graffiti tag of Greek letters spray-painted on its side.
The letters appeared to be "Tau Epsilon Phi," painted in the lavender that corresponds to the New York-based fraternity, which has chapters at Rowan University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers University. It was followed by what looked like "94."
Fraternity representatives from the Rutgers-Camden and Rowan chapters referred questions to the national organization, which could not be reached for comment.
Atlantic City Police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said that photos were turned over to the department's intelligence unit for further investigation and that the origin of the graffiti was still just a matter of speculation.
Bob Schoelkopf of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center said the whale, dead or alive, was a federally protected animal. Central Pier had similar graffiti, he said, indicating that the markings were made on the beach. Boardwalk ambassadors found the 20-foot whale around 8 a.m. during a routine beach walk.
"To do a dead animal, that's ridiculous," said Schoelkopf, who worked for several hours with the city's public works crew to bury the animal eight feet beneath the beach, near the pier. "It came in, somebody found it under the pier and tagged it."
The "tagged whale" quickly became a beach and Internet magnet of outrage and curiosity, with photos widely shared. Philadelphia writer Dan McQuade appeared to be the first to suggest a possible link to the fraternity.
The whale was too heavy to do anything but carve up sections to take for an autopsy and bury the rest, Schoelkopf said. The carcass will remain deep under the sand - for now.
"Don't think we'll see it for a few years," he said.
A common dolphin also was found dead Thursday morning seven blocks away, but Schoelkopf said there did not seem to be a connection.
The whale appeared to have been dead for several days and washed up under the Central Pier in the overnight storms, he said. It had no sign of trauma. The dolphin carcass was sent to a state laboratory in Ewing for a pathologist to examine.
Schoelkopf said washed-up whales are not uncommon - though graffiti-tagged ones would appear to be. A 57-foot whale that had been hit by a freighter washed up in Jersey City last month.
The minke is common in Atlantic coastal waters. It is characterized by fingernail-like material, instead of teeth, that hangs from the roof of its mouth, he said.