Authorities were appalled to discover a 66-foot-long, beached blue whale along the coast of Punta Delgada, Chile, desecrated with graffiti and surrounded by dozens of tourists.
Members of the Chilean Navy formed a perimeter around the whale Sunday as scientists conducted research. The whale's official cause of death has not yet been released, but scientists with Greenpeace Chile believe harmful algal bloom in the area may be responsible.
A dead blue whale is not some attraction – it's an endangered species beloved by many, wildlife officials said after photos of the whale circulated online. Tourists flocked to the whale over the weekend to snap selfies and "ride" the animal.
"The horrific behavior displayed by these individuals is a sign of the disregard and disrespect of the truly spiritual creatures that ply our oceans," Liz Lewis, director of field operations for Springcreek Conservation, an educational organization that financially supports the Museum of Natural History of Rio Seco in Chile, told Fox News.
Estefanía González, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Chile, echoed Lewis.
"This is an insensitive and shameful act," González said in a statement to Fox News.
"It's important to know if the whale died due to a harmful algal bloom, which is the most likely reason, by feeding on poisoned seafood," González explained. "It's a fact that salmon farming, which is very present in the area, contaminates the water with harmful nutrients, fostering the development of red tides, or harmful algal blooms."
Lewis said it's also possible the mammal died of starvation.
Locals took to social media to condemn the tourists' "unacceptable" actions. One man, in particular, captured the internet's attention.
Rodrigo Saavedra, who lives in Santiago, Chile, read about the incident in his local newspaper and shared screenshots of photos from the paper on social media.
"I read about it when it became viral and people began to show their disagreement and their repudiation with the attitude of those who took selfies with the corpse of the whale," Saavedra told Fox News. "It was also repudiated by government agencies."
Photos Saavedra shared on Twitter showed cuts on the whale's skin, the words "Ana, I love you" carved into its body and two girls flashing peace signs while posing for pictures on top of its back. The tweet was shared by nearly 20,000 accounts and received thousands of replies.
"How far will humans go?" one Twitter user asked.
"If I find a stranded whale my natural reaction would be to weep for the animal," another replied. "I know that we're not all equal, not all would have to mourn as I would, but my first thought would not be to climb up, pose, smiling and leave my name in his body."
Lewis said the goal of Springcreek Conservation is to educate and bring awareness to the crisis oceans face today, and this incident proves there's more work to be done.
"To have the largest mammal on planet earth wash ashore and die...and be desicrated is a message to us all," she said. "Much work is still needed in the education and awareness of our natural environment and all the species that live within it."
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