• 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

Tursiops

Tursiops truncatus is the scientific name for the common bottlenose dolphin. Tursiops is also the user name shared by volunteers who contribute to this blog. If you have an idea for a blog post, or think we should comment on an article you’ve found, click the contact button above and drop us a line!

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Rescue of juvenile green sea turtle

April 11, 2003

As we arrived at the old Coast Guard docks at Cape Lookout for our annual clean-up trip, Keith observed a turtle laying on it’s back near the water. Upon examination Keith discovered the green sea turtle was still alive, but in bad shape. The turtle’s carapace was covered with big barnacles and there were barnacles on the soft tissue of the neck. Keith and volunteer Carl Spangler carried the turtle to Harker’s Island by boat where he was met by Wendy Cluse, Assistant Sea Turtle Biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Wendy drove the turtle the remainder of the way to the The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island. At the hospital the turtle was given the name “Stormy”. Last report was that the green sea turtle was now eating. We’re pulling for you “Stormy”.

Update: “Stormy” recovered and was released on 9/24/03.

plastron view, green sea turtle
Plastron View

Carapace covered in big barnicles, green sea turtle
Carapace covered in big barnacles

Transfering green sea turtle to Wendy
Transferring turtle to Wendy

Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium (2003)

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Cape Lookout Studies Program, Education

SEAMAMMS 2003

Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium
Beaufort Bottlenose Dolphin Research Presented at Regional Meeting
by Elin Haugen, March 30, 2003

Seven staff members and volunteers of the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Cape Lookout Studies Program attended the 10th anniversary meeting of the regional Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammals Symposium ( SEAMAMMS) in Virginia on March 28 and 29. Hosted by Christopher Newport University in Newport News, researchers and students from Florida to New Jersey gathered to share their latest findings about bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals, specifically whales, and manatees. Co-authors Nan Bowles, Allen Brooks and Keith Rittmaster, presented their ongoing research of identifying the bottlenose dolphins in Beaufort estuarine and coastal waters. Their specific topic addressed techniques for distinguishing individual dolphins by the scars and notches acquired on their dorsal fins – a process called photo-identification. Volunteers Kim Merrels, Victoria Thayer, Tom Kirmeyer, and Elin Haugen accompanied them; they are all active participants in local dolphin research initiated by Keith Rittmaster and Victoria Thayer. Since 1985 this Beaufort couple, along with many Southeastern colleagues, students of all ages, and volunteers from Carteret County, have studied and photographed dolphins to compile the largest dolphin catalog from any east coast study site. The Beaufort researchers also introduced an interactive display that simulates the fin matching process (Try our online version.). Originally designed and built by museum volunteers John Russell, Andy Caldwell and Ted O’Dell, for education programs, three new displays were recently built by volunteer Tom Kirmeyer for environmental education outreach efforts. This display design is easily adapted to other instructional activities. A new North Carolina “Protect Wild Dolphins” license plate that features a 3-color logo of a pair of leaping dolphins is now available, funds from which will support dolphin research, conservation, and education programs. For more information, contact Keith Rittmaster (krittmaster@ec.rr.com, 252-504-2452) at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

Seamamms Banner
SEAMAMMS Banner

Rescue boat
Similiar or Different?

Finmatching Board
Fin matching board game

Right whale near Cape Lookout Bight

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Cetacean Studies

Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
Sighted at Cape Lookout Bight
March 25, 2003

While on a routine bottlenose dolphin survey Nan spotted something large in the water some distance away. When we went to investigate we discovered that it was a right whale. We proceeded to take photos in hope that the individual whale could be identified. There were also some bottlenose dolphins in the area and we discovered that by keeping an eye on the dolphins we could track the whale . One time the whale surfaced right beside the boat which created quite a bit of excitement. After taking a few photos we left the whale to continue its travels. Staff of the New England Aquarium in Boston curate the North Atlantic right whale photo-ID catalog and we are currently awaiting their analysis of our photos. Right whales are extremely endangered in the North Atlantic with less than 325 individuals left. This was a magnificent animal and how much poorer we will be if they cease to exist because of the activities of man. For more information about right whales, please visit the links below:

Studies of the North Atlantic right whale
NOAA, right whales

Eubalaena glacialisEubalaena glacialis

Installation of the Solar Hot Water Heating System

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Installation of the Solar Hot Water Heating System

by Allen Brooks, March 29-31, 2002

The NC Maritime Museum’s Cape Lookout Studies program is proud to announce the donation of a “state-of-the-art” solar water heating system, including installation, from the NC Solar Center, North Carolina State University.

Their web site address is www.ncsc.ncsu.edu. Shawn Fitzpatrick – Solar Engineering Specialist, Kurt Creamer – Solar Engineering Specialist, and Christine Maurer – Graduate Research Assistant, of the NC Solar Center installed the solar hot water system at Cape Lookout over the Easter Weekend. The crew worked hard and late into the night returning to Raleigh at 5 AM Easter Sunday Morning. We really appreciate this donation and hard work and look forward to showing it off to our participants this summer. This donation will result in a major decrease in the use of fossil fuel at the field station for hot water. Assisting in the installation were NC Maritime Museum Volunteers Hugh Wilde, Ralph Merrill, Tabbie Merrill, and Allen Brooks. We are also grateful for support toward this project from Cyndy Mann, Steve Hassenfelt, Roger Mays, and Ranny + Lillie Pearce.

photo001Unloading the solar hot water heater equipment at the field station.

photo002Work begins with a planning session led by Shawn. Shawn was Keith’s initial contact with the NC Solar Center. Shawn decided to donate a solar water heating system after viewing our web site. Sam Bryan is our volunteer Webmaster who provides the site. Thanks Sam!

photo003Christine helping to run copper water pipes into the basement.

photo004Kurt installing fittings on the solar hot water storage tank. The water in this tank circulates through the solar collectors when the sun is out. Hot water from this tank will feed into the existing hot water heater on the left.

photo005Hugh and Ralph begin construction on the solar collectors support frame that will eventually hold 3 solar water collectors.

photo006Hugh and Ralph measuring to make sure the support frame will be square.

photo007Tabbie making sure Ralph doesn’t get sunburned. Tabbie took care of the kitchen and kept us all well fed. She even cleaned the bathroom. Thanks Tabbie!

photo008Christine taking a turn on the posthole diggers. Thanks Christine!

photo009Shawn and Kurt cut a support block for the Solar Side-Bar assembly.

photo010Kurt, Shawn, Ralph, Christine, and Hugh install the first solar water collector.

photo011The moment of truth, is it square? It was. Thanks Ralph and Hugh!

photo012Kurt putting his back into it. Thanks Kurt!

photo013Shawn giving a demo on soldering copper pipe. None of this would have been possible without Shawn. We look forward to hosting alternative energy seminars with the NC Solar Center. Again their web site address is www.ncsc.ncsu.edu. Thanks Shawn!

photo0014The solar hot storage tank with Solar Sidebar assembly.

photo015The Solar Sidebar assembly. Located on bottom left is a small solar pump that circulates water from the solar storage tank through the solar collectors and back to the tank. On the top left is a readout of the temperature of the water in the tank and the water returning from the solar collectors. In the middle is a flow gauge to monitor the flow of water through the tank.

photo016The solar storage tank connected to the cold-water input of the existing gas water heater.

photo017The Solar Photovoltaic panel that powers the circulation pump. The Solar Photovoltaic panel also controls a thermostatic valve that allows circulation through the collectors when the sun is out and allows the system to drain at night.

photo018The completed solar collector installation. Water from the solar storage tank enters the bottom of each collector. Water from the top of each collector returns to the storage tank. At the top right is an air vent. Each collector has a volume of 0.8 gallons.

photo019This is a great addition to the alternative energy systems at the NC Maritime Museum’s Cape Lookout Field Station. All of the electricity used at the Field Station is provided by alternative energy systems. In the front are the solar photovoltaic panels that help provide the electricity at the Field Station. A wind generator provides the rest.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
Turtle Rescue

by Martha Crooker, April 20, 2002

On Saturday, April 20, the Cape Lookout Photographic Expedition sponsored by the North Carolina Maritime Museum, was interrupted by a rare and unfortunate event.Shortly before 5pm, Keith Rittmaster, Natural Science Curator and Field Studies Program Director, and museum volunteer Hugh Wilde, were preparing to make a boat run to Harker’s Island to pick up developed film, when Wilde spotted something splashing off the docks in Cape Lookout Bight.

On close investigation, Keith and Hugh discovered that an endangered leatherback sea turtle had become entrapped in a sink gill net. The struggling turtle was unable to surface for air. Although sea turtles are often submerged for long periods of time, this turtle appeared to be under a great deal of stress.

The two men were able to free the turtle just enough to allow it to surface and to breath. Keith assessed the situation and knew they needed more help if the rescue attempt would be successful.

A different boat was obtained, several people from the photographic expedition were summoned to assist, other visitors at the cape stood by to help, and still others began to document the rescue attempt with cameras. From the boat, Keith and crew were able to cut the net and guide the entangled turtle to shore. Indeed, the turtle headed to shore on his own accord, pulling the boat to shallower water.

Leatherback sea turtles are listed on the Federal Endangered Species List, and thus protected by the Endangered Species Act. Leatherbacks are the largest species of sea turtles, and are most often found in tropical waters. In the spring, Keith often sees leatherbacks first, before he sees loggerhead turtles, the species he most frequently encounters.

For the observers on shore, it appeared that every move counted in freeing the turtle from the net. Keith spoke to the crowd as he worked, sharing facts about the leatherback species. He addressed issues that relate to conflicts between commercial fishing and bycatch. He expressed empathy for the fisherman whose net he damaged while freeing the turtle. One of the volunteers assisting offered to ‘pass the hat’ to collect money to repair the net. Keith acknowledged this generous offer and said he would attempt to contact the owner.

Keith took the opportunity to take measurements of the turtle while museum volunteer Allen Brooks recorded the data. This particular turtle, a male, was nearly six feet long and it’s age estimated to be between ten and twenty years old

Rittmaster, who holds a permit to tag sea turtles, inserted an imbedded, lifelong tag on the turtle, as well as two external tags. These tags are crucial for research and future marine conservation measures.

The turtle appeared unharmed by the ordeal in the gill net, and after measurements were taken and information recorded, the turtle was guided back to open water. Everyone stepped aside to watch the turtle plod from the shore, to deeper water, then disappear below the surface.

Relief and joy spread among the rescuers, the photographers, and the bystanders. After having taken part in such a successful event in marine conservation, we all knew we had witnessed a rare and spectacular rescue. It was obvious to all who watched the rescue that Keith responded in the only appropriate manner. Any passerby would have attempted to free the turtle. Had not Keith freed the turtle, the owner of the net would have found a carcass of a rare sea turtle to deal with, and in the extracting process, would likely have damaged the net. One less sea turtle, why does that matter?

Leatherback sea turtles feed on jellyfish. Their predators are killer whales and sharks (and man). Protecting endangered sea turtles does matter because they are vital to the marine food web and healthy ecosystems. This rare leatherback sea turtle was worthy of being set free.

Martha Crooker
Author of the article,
Martha Crooker

Rescue boat

Rescue boat skippered by John Atkins approaches leatherback sea turtle struggling in net.

Trapped in a net

Netted leatherback sea turtle struggling to surface for air by rescue boat.

Removing net

Leatherback sea turtle ashore with net still attached

Taking measurements

Using large calipers to measure straight carapace length (137cm) and width (75cm). Note remora that stayed attached throughout rescue.

Close-up of turtle’s head

Close-up of turtle’s head. The pink spots on top can be used in Photo-ID. CLSP has started a leatherback catalog.

Heading Home

Rescued leatherback sea turtle returns to sea – YEAH!!

Loggerhead Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Loggerhead Turtle Rescue

     by Allen Brooks, July 12,2001

One of the activities we try to involve participants in is Sea Turtle Conservation so during turtle nesting season we regularly patrol the beach early in the morning looking for signs of turtle nesting activity.

Loggerhead buried at pointThis past July 12 around 7 am we found a 350 lb female Loggerhead half buried in the sand below the high tide line at the very tip of the point. We thought she was dead until we looked at her eye and she looked back.

Loggerhead had injured peak.The turtle was very weak, skinny and had a damaged peak  The Carapace has carpet of reddish algae and barnacles.

Loggerhead being transported to SpyhopKeith made some calls and it was decided that we would transport the turtle to the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach, NC. Along with some kids on an outing with the Coastal Federation we transported the turtle to the old Coast Guard dock.

Loggerhead being carried to SpyhopThe turtle was loaded onto Spyhop and covered with wet towels for the ride to Harker’s Island. She was so big it took 5 guys to carry her to the boat.

Loggerhead being loaded onto SpyhopAt Harker’s Island we were met by Susana Clusella, the assistant sea turtle coordinator for North Carolina, who drove her the remainder of the way to the The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. Visit The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital’s web site:

UPDATE
This lucky turtle completely recovered thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital and was released in the Spring of 2002 at Topsail Island. The hospital staff had named her “Cape” and had become quite attached after feeding, bathing, and caring for her for almost a year. When Cape got near the ocean there was no stopping her, she was going home. Good Luck Cape!

The rearticulation of a bottlenose dolphin skeleton

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Cetacean Studies

by Keith Rittmaster and Leonard DeDuke, 5 March, 1997

bottlenose dolphin skeleton     On May 11, 1993, Keith Rittmaster, Natural Science Curator of the NC Maritime Museum, discovered a dead bottlenose dolphin carcass washed ashore at Cape Lookout. Keith performed a necropsy to determine the sex, approximate age, possible cause of death, and to take tissue samples and measurements. It was a post-partum adult female, 260 cm long. The cause of death was not determined. Tissue samples (gonads and stomach) were sent to the Beaufort NMFS lab for analysis. Then students from Halifax Academy, Roanoke Rapids, NC assisted Keith in burying the carcass under approximately 1 meter of sand behind the primary dune on 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth.

     On May 21, 1994, students from Halifax Academy returned to help Keith exhume the grave. After a year, very little flesh or residual tissue remained. 16 people divided into teams of 2-3 focused on specific aspects of the skeleton. Each arcade of teeth was pressed into a labeled piece of styrofoam. The vertebral column was strung together in order with nylon twine. Hardware cloth envelopes were made and labeled for the flippers, hyoid bones, sternebrae, caudal vertebrae, and pelvic bones. Ribs and costal bones were labeled and tied together in order. The chevrons were assembled in order, photographed, labeled, and placed in a hardware cloth envelope.

     Keith brought the bones back to the museum, scrubbed them, and soaked them for two weeks in a weak (10%) solution of household ammonia. Then they were air dried in the sun.

     Museum Volunteer Leonard DeDuke undertook the task of rearticulating the bottlenose dolphin skeleton with advice from Charley Potter from the Smithsonian Institution, Bill McLellan and Ann Pabst from UNC Wilmington, Sentiel Rommel, and various publications on the subject. A 1/4″ stainless steel rod runs through the entire length of the vertebral column. Felt pads were used to represent the intervertebral discs. Wires and Marine Tex adhesive were used to attach most of the other bones together.

     Notice there are no bones in the lateral extensions of the tail (flukes) nor in the dorsal fin which are soft tissue in the living specimen. These appendages are highly vascular and used for swimming and thermoregulation. Also notice that near the back of the vertebral column that some of the vertebrae are fused. This may have been a result of an injury or disease, and perhaps a contributing factor in the dolphin’s death, or, as is often the case in dolphins, a normal condition of aging. Also note one of the ribs on the dolphin’s right side was fractured. This was repaired in the rearticulation, but may have contributed to the dolphins’ death. On the same rib notice a previous fracture that was healed in life.

     A rearticulated bottlenose dolphin skeleton such as this one has tremendous educational and scientific value. It provides students and scientists the opportunity to study the evolution, comparative anatomy, and bone disorders of these animals. Public displays are an excellent means for increasing public awareness of marine mammals. Since the dolphin is a mammal, it’s bones are similar to other mammals, including humans. There are, of course, some differences between dolphin skeletons and other mammals. One of those differences is the presence of the chevron bones on the undersurface of the caudal (or tail) vertebrae. These bones serve as sites for muscle attachment used in the downstroke in swimming. Notice that the flipper has the similar bones (humerus, radius, ulna, phalanges) found in other mammals, including humans. These bones, however, are relatively smaller in the dolphin and reflect adaptations for life in a marine environment.

     The study of a specimen such as this one also assists in the behavioral interpretations of observations in the wild. For example, a dolphin’s physical limitations are not obvious in the wild but an understanding of these limitations through skeletal studies will help us understand the relationships between biology, anatomy, and behavior.

     To complete this project, from the necropsy on the beach to the final hanging of the bottlenose dolphin skeleton display took approximately 300 people hours. The cost of materials was approximately $300. Leonard is not interested in rearticulating another bottlenose dolphin skeleton but said he may be interested in trying a large whale next.