• 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

Octopus Visitor — Shy and Smart

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

This Octopus has been under Keith’s dock for the last 3 days. That means (let’s call her she) she has come into and up the Newport River almost to Core Creek.They are often seen on the coast here but it may be pretty unusual for them to be this far inland.
She is an octopus vulgaris or Common Octopus. She is part of a group of Mollusks called Cephalapods who are among the most evolved and intelligent invertebrates. Through giving them complex tasks to solve we have learned that they have both long and short term memories and learn quickly. Some people who work with them in captivity think they may even like to play tricks on us. Their eyes are similar to ours, they have a cornea, lens and retina. Some octopus see color but not the Octopus vulgaris.
For protection they can release a purple-black ink when they feel threatened for camouflage and to temporarily destroy the predator’s sense of smell. They are short-lived. The males generally die shortly after mating and the females usually die after they have protected their eggs for about a month during which their appetite is reduced. An article in Science News describes a gland, the optic gland, that seems to dictate when they die. Their mouth is like a parrot’s beak and is found where the legs come together. It is the only rigid part of their body. One of their fascinating characteristics is their ability to change the texture and color of their mantle.

2 Pairs of Bonded Males- 1st Winter Dolphins

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

We photographed our first winter bottlenose dolphins October 23rd – a little earlier than usual. We saw two pairs of bonded males that have been photographed together – Onion and Butterfly since 1993 and Mohammed and Buddha since 1994. Adult male bottlenose dolphins often form pair bonds that last a few years or until one of them dies. Research suggests the pairs have often been in the same juvenile group. These four dolphins have been seen in the summer at Manteo, NC together in the same pairs we see here in Beaufort.
The photo shows Onion and Butterfly, Onion is the one with the dorsal fin notched on the leading edge. Sorry the picture is old and not so good. Since our focus is photo ID, 99% of our photos are of individual fins. I had to go back to 1997 to find this one.
Male pair bonds are a fascinating subject that needs more study. They seem to vary due to location. If anyone out there has information about this, please comment.

Spirit Sperm Whale Painting at Bonehenge

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

For our Bonehenge building where we are re-articulating the sperm whale skeleton, Karen Hattman designed and painted a unique and beautiful painting for the outside of the building. It is her interpretation of the spirit of ‘our’ whale in the Pacific Northwest Native American style. It is a powerful experience to approach the building and be greeted by this image. I am certain that it will assist us and our work to honor the life of this great whale.

Journey of our sperm whale painting from her studio to its new home at Bonehenge
loading up from Karen’s studio and away down the driveway
lifting, positioning and attaching painting to building

covered for unveiling

Karen describing the symbolic meaning                                                                      unveiling the painting

North Atlantic Right Whale Mom and Calf

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Mom is on the left and the calf on the right in the single picture above. In the other pictures, the calf is the one with the white belly showing. .

Click on pictures to enlarge them.

Photos by Keith Rittmaster & Brooks.

We had a truly exciting sighting of a right whale mom and her calf, the calf was less than 3 months old.
This was a while ago, May 23, 2008, but looking at these pictures again I had to share them.
New England Aquarium keeps a catalog of Atlantic Right Whales, identifying each whale by several criteria, especially their unique pattern of callosities (raised tissue) primarily on the top of the head.
It was a beautiful sunny day, May 23, 2008, we were out doing our dolphin Photo ID work when we saw the pair. There had been reports by boaters of sightings for the past 2 days, but we hadn’t been able to verify them. We were thrilled by their beauty and saddened that less than 400 of them are surviving in the Atlantic Ocean.
They were 1/2 a km off Shackleford Banks and 3 km east of Beaufort Inlet near Cape Lookout, NC. The right whale females are usually 9 or 10 before their first calf. The males don’t usually sire a calf until about 15 years of age. Gestation is 12 – 14 months and the calves only stay with their Mom for approximately a year. A short time for a whale .Since they spend 80% of their time under water, there is much we don’t know.
this is the energetic calf.

To have perspective, the right whales grow up to 55 feet long and to 70 tons. That is big. This is Mom in front of a boat. Remember, the dorsal fin you see, is only about 1/2 way down the body.

We learned from New England Aquarium that they know this female well. She is #1321 and named Mono. She was first photographed in our area in October 1990 with a young calf. This calf from 2008 is her fourth, the last one was born in 2004. There is often 6 -7 year interval between calves. Interestingly, this one was born quite late and her first calf (that we know about) in 1990 was born quite early. I guess she didn’t read the book.
This link, rwcatalog will take you to the New England Aquarium North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, click search for individual whales and put in her #1321.
A sighting like this is a gift that stays with you.

WOW !! 14 Known Dolphins in One Sighting & Stats

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

On September 14th, 09 we had a sighting in the nearby estuary for our dolphin photo ID program and it turns out that 14 of the dolphins that day are ones already known to us and catalogued. that makes for an exciting discovery with data.

photos by Keith Rittmaster

September Stats:
Summer dolphins still here.
6 days on the water
A total of 7 sightings with 68 distinct dolphins.
capelookoutstudies.org web site received 220 hits in September.
bonehenge.org received 5,516 hits and this blog received 108 hits.
Bonehenge is hot.
We continue to collect monofilament.

“Protect Wild Dolphins” Scholarships

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized


The following North Carolina students whose work promotes the protection of wild dolphins had abstracts accepted for presentation at the 18th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Quebec City, Canada, October 12 through 16, 2009. These four students were each awarded a $210 grant from the “Protect Wild Dolphins” license plate income through the Friends of the Maritime Museum, Beaufort, NC.
These students are:

Laura E. Bagge. UNCW. Thermal Properties of the blubber of adult short – finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

Reny Tyson. Duke. Abundance and Community Structure of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the

Big Bend of Florida, St. Vincent Sound to Alligator Harbor.

Sara McClelland. UNCW. Variation in the vascular patterns of
blubber in shallow and deep diving
Odontocetes: implications for diving
physiology ?

Anna McGregor. Duke. Modeling the cost of locomotion for traveling and foraging North Atlantic

Right whales with a computational
fluid dynamics simulation.

Congratulations !! Keep up the good work.