• They have a lot more to teach us.

    We've learned a lot with your help. But there's still so much we need to know to protect our wild dolphin neighbors.

    Give to dolphin research at the Cape Lookout Studies Program.

  • Sea Turtel sick and injured from fishing line

    You can stop this.

    Protecting marine wildlife is within your reach.

    When you give to put monofilament recycling bins within reach of conscientious boaters and anglers.

  • Harbor seal in need

    Save lives, reduce suffering, learn more.

    It's a win, win, win – when you support our Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

    Please give generously to the Cape Lookout Studies Program.

  • Cetacean Studies

    Inspire curiosity.

    What does it take to get students interested in science and conservation? Your help.

    Please give generously to support Cetacean Studies and the Bonehenge rearticulation project.

Author Archive

humpback whales

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Sighting Report

Date: 28Dec2012
Location: Cape Lookout
Reported By: Keith Rittmaster
Details/condition: Two humpback whales were

swimming eastbound, one bearing entanglement scars but apparently no line is

currently on the whale

Humpback whale at Cape Lookout, 28Dec2012

Dolphin, porpoise, and mahi-mahi (dolphinfish)

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Cetacean Studies

The interchangeable use of the terms “dolphin”, “porpoise”, and “mahimahi” contributes to the confusion regarding the occurrence and taxonomy of three distinct species.  Dolphins and porpoises are marine mammals – warm-blooded, have lungs (air-breathing), and bear live young.  The mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) is a fish – cold blooded, has gills (extracts oxygen from water), and spawns eggs.

When fishing enthusiasts refer to “dolphin”, they often mean the dolphin fish, AKA “mahi-mahi” or “dorado”.  Mahi-mahi are fun to see and catch, delicious to eat, and if you see “dolphin” on a menu (at least in the US), that’s what you’ll be ordering.  When those fishers want to refer to the mammal dolphin, they often use the term “porpoise”.

The only species of porpoise we could possibly see in North Carolina waters is the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), generally dead, or dying, during the winter.  Their normal range is concentrated north of us.  Historically, what was/is referred to the “porpoise fishery” on North Carolina beaches, actually targeted bottlenose dolphins, not porpoises or fish.

Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the only species of dolphin you are likely to see healthy in North Carolina’s coastal and estuarine waters.  Dolphins grow much larger than porpoises, have a large, falcate dorsal fin, and have a prominent beak (rostrum).  Other species of dolphins occur further offshore, but that’s for a future post.

The graphic below will help clarify differences in the 3 species.

“Rainbow” returns with a new calf

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in bottlenose dolphin photo ID

“Rainbow”, #789 in our dolphin photo-identification catalog, is one of our best known bottlenose dolphins.

First photographed in October, 1989, we’ve see her 62 times since then, most years during the months of October-April. On September 27, 2012 between Radio Island and Pivers Island we spotted her for the first time this season with a new calf. In the photo below, notice the calf has 2 small notches near the base of its dorsal fin’s trailing edge. It is rare that such a young calf acquires notches, and this may provide us with a unique opportunity to track a calf after it leaves a known mom. Just beyond Rainbow’s dorsal fin you can see the open blowhole of a nearby dolphin.

Rainbow & calf, 27Sept2012b

Bottlenose dolphin Rainbow and calf. Photo by Keith Rittmaster, NC Maritime Museum


A young bottlenose dolphin dead with multiple entanglements

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Marine Mammal Stranding Network, monofilament recycling

            On October 7th, 2011, Kat Fourhman of the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island responded to a stranding of a dead bottlenose dolphin on the shore of Roanoke Sound near Manteo, NC.  Paul Doshkov of Cape Hatteras National Seashore assisted with the investigation.  It was a 175cm (5’ 9”) male.  At that size he would have been around 2 years old, still nursing, growing fast.  Monofilament line from 2 different types of gill nets surrounded the rostrum and left pectoral fin. 

Stumpy the Right Whale is Being Installed in the NC Museum of Science

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Bonehenge; Cetacean rearticulation, Cetacean Studies, Education, Uncategorized

Keith Rittmaster, the leader of Cape Lookout Studies Program,was in Raleigh, NC last week working with Dan DenDanto and his Whales and Nails team installing a reassembled  52 foot right right whale in the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Good practice for the 34 foot sperm whale  that Keith  will soon install in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort, NC.
Un-posed above and posed below. Above, Keith is in the red t-shirt and below in the blue hard hat with the Whales and Nails team.
For more information. about the whale reassembly process in Maine.
And here for more on the installation work at the Museum of Science.
This will be an amazing educational display. Stumpy, and her calves, were right whales well known to researchers. She had migrated up and down the Atlantic Coast for years.She was found floating dead near the NC-VA border after being hit by a large ship. At the time of her death she was almost ready to deliver a male fetus. The fetus died. His skeleton will be displayed where she was carrying him at the time of their death. Her jaw was broken from the ship strike. Pieces of her jaw bone were used to research the damage from a ship strike at different ship speeds. This is valuable information that will help establish the speed that ships can safely travel in waters where these whales live and travel.

Beaufort NC Dolphins – Fabulous Photographs Showing Dorsal Fins, Xenobalanus and Action

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in bottlenose dolphin photo ID, Uncategorized

A fabulous collection of Keith Rittmaster’s photographs of our local Beaufort, NC dolphins. Notice the  differences in dorsal fins (the fin on the back). That is how we ID them and keep records of individual dolphins sometimes going back over 20 years. Notice in the upper right photo something hanging off the  top of the dorsal fin – like a decorative fringe or tassel. That is actually a barnacle called Xenobalanus that only seems to attach itself to whales and dolphins. We believe we will learn more about dolphin travels and activities once we know more about  Xenobalanus.          More information about this hitchhiker barnacle