On May 1st, a stranded minke whale found on a New Jersey beach was “tagged” with what appear to be Greek Letters-a frat prank perhaps? While “tagging” a whale may seem like a harmless prank, it’s harmful to conservation and dangerous to the “tagger.”
I have personally written on many dead marine mammals but only when they can’t be removed from the beach. This ensures that the same animals aren’t reported over and over again to the stranding networks as new cases. The key is that I did so AFTER examining the animal and while wearing the proper safety gear.
Stranded marine mammals are thoroughly examined for signs of injuries which can be subtle. Painting the carcass can conceal a mark that may help researchers understand what happened to the animal. Injuries consistent with vessel strikes, or entanglements, can help managers understand where areas of high risk are, and help create measures to reduce those risks.
But perhaps the taggers are not into protecting whales and aren’t worried if they concealed injuries on the carcass. Maybe then they should worry if they were protected when they got close to a dead whale. Whales are mammals and, as such, we share more than the air we both breathe; we share the same risk of infection from a number of bacteria that can lead to nasty and, if not properly treated, deadly diseases. Brucella, for example, is a fascinating encapsulated bacteria that can be transmitted to humans. If you’re lucky, it leaves you achy, depressed and unable to be a blood donor. If you’re not so lucky, then you can only hope that whomever finds your body doesn’t have a can of spray paint in hand when they do.