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Author Archive


Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Bonehenge; Cetacean rearticulation, monofilament recycling

Not as exciting as Baja and whales, but here are the Cape Lookout Studies updates this month.

The skull is still in the jacuzzi releasing grease – this whale had an amazing amount of grease. Two huge limbs from the oak tree just above the jacuzzi almost smashed the skull in a snow storm. Pierre-Henry Fontaine from Quebec visited Bonehenge (and our sperm whale) and offered sage advice. Starting with the tail, we’ve begun fabricating intervertebral discs, and we’re drilling through vertebrae and mounting them on 3/8″ stainless allthread. Dominic Brown, from Channel 12,ran a news story about Bonehenge, which portrayed his, and our, excitement about this project.

Central NC Marine Mammal Strandings.
At the annual NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network Conference in February, Keith requested an entire adult right whale skeleton should one happen to come ashore at a convenient location and time. Keith also agreed to develop a form to be used by anyone for formally requesting specimens, data, samples, photos, analysis etc. from stranded marine mammals in NC.
Vicky Thayer will present North Carolina delphinid stranding diversity from 1992-2009 at the SEAMAMMS Conference March 26-28 in Virginia Beach.

Our web sites and blog, have been wonderfully busy.

Bottlenose dolphin photo ID
Even with really tough weather conditions, we got out 5 days, had 11 sightings and have dorsal fin photos of 85 dolphins. We continue to see Manteo and Virginia Beach dolphins plus a few freeze brands.

The ‘Protect Wild Dolphin’ License Plate quarterly check was $3,180.This money really helps support our research. If you live in NC, please consider joining our group of dolphin plate people.
Click here for license plate information.

NC Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program
Two little used bins were removed from Emerald Isle beaches. One new outdoor bin went to Sarah Falkowski of Outer banks Center for Wildlife Education for use in Currituck County. One outdoor bin and one indoor box went to Allen Fitz of Network for Endangered Sea Turtles for use in Dare County.

Keith & Wild Life in Baja, Mexico

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Keith & wildlife in Baja, Mexico.Keith joined a friend and colleague on a whale, and other wild- life, observation journey. Here are some of his pictures, there will more pictures and text soon.
These gray whale pictures are from Magdelena Bay, Baja, Mexico. On the bottom, are the gray whale’s blow holes and above on top, a gray whale right next to the boat and above center, gray whale flukes as whale goes into a dive.

Keith holding up rock and a blue booby – you can probably tell which is which.

Below, sea lions and a paper nautilus shell.

Blue whale mom and calf.


Pelican practicing full moon diving.
So, that’s it for now.
All pictures by Keith Rittmaster – Please do not copy without permission.

UPDATES – Humpback Whale – Monofilament Recycling

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Humpback whale

On January 16, 2010 this juvenile humpback whale was seen at Cape Lookout. Keith sent Ryan’s photo to Jooke Robbins with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA and she immediately matched it as a whale they had IDed in the Gulf of Maine.

Monofilament We weighted and sent off 38 pounds of monofilament for recycling. We received a “Fish-Hab” (pictured above) from Berkley Conservation Institute which is made from recycled monofilament.That is Keith holding it and next to him is one of our recycle bins.

Berkley Conservation Institute was founded to respect the outdoors and foster a passion for fishing. The ‘Fish Hab’ is made for fresh water and research has shown that in many places the fish populations increased four times with its use.

Bottlenose Dolphin VGT219 Necropsy Part of Training

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Stranded dolphin VGT219 was necropsied as part of a one day stranding training offered at CMAST in Beaufort, NC for volunteers by Vicky Thayer, Craig Harms and Keith Rittmaster. A vast amount of information was presented about individual and mass strandings with both live and dead animals.
Then in the afternoon, after delicious pizza, VGT219 was necropsied.
This older female Bottlenose dolphin had a stingray spine lodged in her right lung. It had been there for a while. Bone and soft tissue damage from the spine’s migration was evident.
She had a double horned horned uterus. She had given birth to calves, although I don’t know how many. Her health seemed to be compromised in several different ways, but more will be known after lab results. The picture below shows how we measured the length of the intestines – we laid them out in equal length lines and counted the number of lines multiplied by the line length. That is a lot of intestine.

All organs were weighted and measured. I still haven’t been able to remove the olfactory reminder from my camera. Her bones were buried in anticipation of possibly becoming a skeletal display.

Florida SeaTurtle Necropsies Done in Beaufort NC

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Sea turtles

Around half of the approximately 400 ‘cold stunned’ sea turtles sent to Beaufort, NC from Florida have been necropsied. Measurements and weights were taken; samples of skin, tissue and anything unusual were taken and all internal organs and external parts were examined. It seems so far that there was no common pathology in most of the turtles to suggest that death was from a problem other than the cold but all data is not in.
Most had food in their stomachs and intestines suggesting they were healthy and eating until the cold. This one had a bite o
ut of it’s side that was completely healed.

The feathery looking part below is the esophagus and the frilly edge that looks like a wave coming on shore is the lung. The lung is all the color of the edge, the red is from warm water being poured into
the cavity in an effort to thaw the insides.
There were more female sea turtles that were necropsied but the population in general has more females.
It was a great collaboration of agencies and individuals to get this number of necropsies done in such a short time. The rest will be done after everyone has been able to get back to their regular work for a while.

‘Cold Stunned’ Sea Turtles from Florida Arrive for Necropsies

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Dolphin VG 219 had to be moved from the NOAA to NCSU CMAST (North Carolina State University Center for Marine and Science Technology) to make room for 400-500 dead sea turtles that were shipped here from Florida for necropsies.
Approximately 4,000 sea turtles died off the Florida coast over the last month, many of which were likely ‘cold stunned’. Turtles become cold stunned at temperatures less than 50 F, smaller turtles reacting first. They will either float on the surface, unable to move, or strand. The necropsies are important to determine whether there were other contributing factors in the deaths. Scientists here are working on the necropsies and completed 40 yesterday. These sea turtles are mostly Green Turtles (endangered) with some Loggerheads(threatened), a few Ridleys(endangered) and possibly a few Hawksbills(endangered).
Of the turtles that were stunned but still alive, 80% were released. These turtles were taken to a facility nearby and placed in warm salt water to bring their bodies back to temperature. They were then weighed, tagged and released as soon as possible. The releases had to be in water above 50F. It is believed that there are no long term affects from ‘cold stunning’. Each turtle was tagged with a metal tag placed on a front flipper.The tagging will be helpful in further research.
Here is a link to good sea turtle info. http://www.seaturtle.org/
This site has photos of the entire process of rescue, warming, tagging and release.
ht tp://www.myfoxtampabay.com/generic/photos/sea-turtles-release-012110

Program Updates

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

We just sent off 41.8 pounds of monofilament for recycling from our receptacles around the coast. Yes!!
We are looking for volunteers to set up and maintain monofilament recycling receptacles in Dare and Currituck counties.
We were on the water 6 days and had 19 sighting sessions with a total of 139
individual dolphin fins photographed. We’re working on how many are matches now.
Keith took the annual re-training with the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network.
At Bonehenge, we continue to degrease the skull in the jacuzzi but have moved the jacuzzi outside due to mold problems. Alternating high and low temperatures seems to be effective at this stage. We are still looking for engineering advice regarding pipe diameter for the thoracic section.

Marine Mammal Strandings – Central North Carolina

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

There were 4 known strandings in December 2009 in central NC.
Dec. 10 – A pregnant Grampus whale on N. Core Banks

This is the fetus found inside the Grampus whale.

Dec. 15 – Male bottlenose dolphin on Bear Island
Dec. 18(ish) – Kogia on N. Core Banks
Dec. 22 – Large female bottlenose on Ocracoke (Outer Banks). She was an old dolphin with teeth almost worn down to the gum. She traveled by truck and ferry from Ocracooke to Beaufort. She was frozen for a necropsy workshop Vicky Thayer will offer on January 30.
VGT 219 is her ID number.

Carrying to the freezer and in the freezer.
Vicky Thayer is currently running the Central North Carolina Stranding Network full time. We will have ongoing updates on strandings.