• 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.

Cuvier’s beaked whale stranding

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Ziphius cavirostris, cuviers beaked whale

Dead stranded 535 cm adult female Cuviers’ beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) on the ocean beach of Ft Macon State Park, NC on June 19, 2017.

On June 19, 2017 a 535 cm (17’ 7”), Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) was reported washed ashore at Fort Macon State Park. Dr. Vicky Thayer, coordinator for the central area NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network, responded with a team which included staff from UNC Wilmington, the N.C. Maritime Museum, N.C. State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City, Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC Aquariums, and the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. The various responders worked together quickly and efficiently on the beach and back at NC State CMAST to examine, measure, and necropsy the animal. Middle school students scheduled for a presentation as part of the Brad Sneeden Marine Science Academy were also able to come to the site for a rare opportunity to see marine science in action.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was determined to be a mature female. The necropsy and related tissue analyses, once completed, may be able give us more information.

The skeletal material is being prepared for future study and rearticulation by staff and volunteers of the NC Maritime Museum.

For more information about Cuvier’s beaked whales, visit http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/cuviers-beaked-whale.html.

To report a stranded marine mammal (dead or alive), visit http://www.capelookoutstudies.org/marine-mammal-stranding/

Ziphius cavirostris, cuviers whale pectorals

left pectoral fin of a 535 cm adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) that stranded at Fort Macon, NC on June 19, 2017. Radiograph courtesy of Heather Broadhurst, NC Aquariums and NC State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology.

Cutty with a neonate!

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

bottlenose dolphin, neonate

Bottlenose dolphin “Cutty” with neonate in Beaufort, 09 June 2017, photo by Keith Rittmaster under NOAA permit

The first day on the water with Spyhop’s new motor was exciting because we saw well-known bottlenose dolphin mom “Cutty” with a neonate in the Newport River. A relatively small mom, Cutty looks very much the same as she did when we first photographed her in Beaufort in July, 1985. Since then we’ve seen her in Beaufort on 103 days, only during the months of April-October.

Spyhop rides again

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

dolphin research boat

Spyhop with the new Suzuki 140 hp 4 stroke motor. Photo by Ambika Menon

Keith Rittmaster, Natural Science Curator at the NC Maritime Museum, extends industrial strength gratitude to the following donors who conspired to fund a new outboard motor for the Friends of the Museum boat “Spyhop”. Keith uses the boat to benefit NC students, citizens, and marine wildlife in all aspects of his work that includes responding to marine mammal strandings and entanglements, maintaining monofilament fishing line receptacles, research and educational field trips, and continuing the local long-term (since 1985) bottlenose dolphin photo-identification project. Thank you!!

Ben Turney

Bruce and Regina McCutcheon

Bud and Anna Doughton

Dail and Laurie Holderness

Dennis Sorensen and Bobbi Wallinger

Graham and Nora Barden

Haywood and Mary Holderness

John and Sandra Atkins

Julian and Sandra Mann

Keith Rittmaster and Vicky Thayer

Lee and David Moore-Crawford

Molly Matlock

Penn and Kim Holderness

Ralph and Susan McCaughan

Ray Luce and Mary Anne Olsen

Sam and Nancye Bryan

Steve and Pam Hassenfelt

Tom and Nancy Reams

Woody and Marty Warburton


Gervais’ beaked whale skeletal display

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Bonehenge; Cetacean rearticulation, Uncategorized

Gervais Whale Skeleton (Mesoplodon europaeus)

gervais whale skeleton

Gervais Beaked whale, currently on display at Duke marine lab until November 2017


The Gervais is the most frequently stranded beaked whale in North Carolina. This skeleton was re-articulated from a whale which stranded on July 18, 2012 on the ocean beach of Salvo, NC. It was a 356 cm long, 445 kg sub-adult male. After the necropsy and pectoral fin radiographs, the bones were labeled, wrapped in nylon netting, and macerated in water with horse feces for nine warm months. The Gervais whale skeleton is now on display in the Repass Ocean Conservation Center at Duke marine lab in Beaufort. Watch a video of hanging the whale skeleton.

Around 340 man hours were dedicated to this project. We would like to thank everyone who helped with reporting, recovery, moving carcass, consultation, necropsy, related research, radiographs, bone weighing, bone preparation, note taking, carpentry, photography, volunteer/staff provisioning, music, and funding.

The team of Nan Bowles, Josh Summers, and Keith Rittmaster recently put the final touches on a Gervais’ beaked whale skeleton and presented it at the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium.

In November 2017 it is scheduled to go on display at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. As far as we know, this is the only skeletal display of this species in the world!

2016 Thank you donors, volunteers, contributors, and collaborators!

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Thank You / Volunteer, Uncategorized

Thank you 2016 donors, volunteers, contributors, and collaborators!
Listed below are individuals/groups whose generosity helped sustain and improve the Cape Lookout Studies Program in 2016 by providing printer ink, photo paper, office supplies, sandpaper, boat fuel, belt sander, cleaning supplies, food, batteries, Sirius/XM radio subscription, book writing, book editing, book publishing, book sales, food, drinks, Ryobi cordless combo power tool set, AC/DC cooler/warmer, computer maintenance, notebooks, artwork , attorney fees, shovel, celebrations, web hosting fees, web site maintenance, fencing, lumber, hardware cloth, lodging in DC, bench grinder, monofilament bin maintenance, Spyhop maintenance, dolphin license plate promotion, $45,581 in cash donations/grants, and approximately 1,090 hours of volunteer time. THANK YOU!!
Sincere thanks also go out to everyone who has an NC “Protect Wild Dolphins” special license plate which raised through Friends of the Museum a total of $10,360 in 2016. The dolphins thank you too.

Congratulations and thanks to Vicky Thayer, the 2016 recipient of the CLSP Outstanding Volunteer award.

Alejandro de la torre
Alex Denson
Alexandra DiGiacomo
Alina Ahmad
Allen Fitz
Andrew Gumbel
Ann Pabst
Anne Straneva
Barbie LaBrun
Bill McLellan
Bonnie Monteleone
Bruce McCutcheon
Bud Doughton
Cam Luck
Candice Sheehan
Carl Cedarholm
Carolina Lamb
Christina Burt
Dan Prendiville
Dana Smith
David Mickey
Dean Vick
Donna Snead
Elizabeth Hanrahan
Ginger Taylor
Haywood Holderness
Helen Aitken
Henrik Cox
Jack Sweeney
James and Lois Pease
Jeremy Dugas
Jim Mead
John Atkins
John Fussell
John Ososky
John Russell
Jong Gwan Lee
Josh Summers
Julian Mann
Kameron Schroeder
Karen Clark
KC Bierlich
Kim Beller
LaNelle Davis
Lee Hinson
Lilla Wieseler
Lingrong Jin
Lookout Foundation
Maddie Go
Mike McEarl
Miriam Brown
Molly Matlock
Nan Bowles
Nivi Ram
Paul Nader
Paul Summers
Pranav Madabhushi
Ralph Merrels
Sam Bryan
Sam Warburton
Steve Hassenfelt
Steve Thornton
Sue Schmidt
Sunny Zhang
Todd Stuart Foundation
Tom Kirmeyer
Tom Reams
Town Creek Marina
Vance/Suzanne Knight
Verena Lawaetz
Vicky Thayer
Virginia Connett
Wendy Donaldson
Woody Warburton

Click here to visit our Thank You page – dedicated to the supporters, volunteers, backers and collaborators of the Cape Lookout Studies Program.

Entangled Humpback Whale frees itself

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

At 7:30 a.m. on October 26, 2017, a fisher reported to the NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network an entangled humpback whale around 2 miles offshore of Oceanana Fishing Pier near Beaufort Inlet. NCMM Natural Science Curator Keith Rittmaster arrived on the scene around 9:00 a.m. The whale appeared to be immature based on the size, and was lively, breathing and diving somewhat normally, but clearly encumbered by parts of a monofilament gill net that had caused some injury to the whale. While Vicky Thayer and team from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries and NCSU CMAST along with Doug Nowacek and team from Duke Marine Lab readied boats, crews, disentanglement gear and tags, Keith stayed with the entangled humpback whale and photographed the injuries and entanglement. At 10:20, after a prolonged submergence of around eight minutes, the whale resurfaced with a burst of energy and lunged speedily away – it had apparently freed itself from the entangling gear. YAY! That was one lucky humpback whale (although the whale may not agree). Keith and Doug’s teams gathered both pieces of the net for subsequent examination by NOAA Fisheries Law Enforcement. The following day Vicky with a team from CMAST and Duke examined and photographed the net after stretching it out in a parking lot, and determined that the entire net had been collected – the whale was apparently gear-free! As we report this, curators of several regional humpback whale photo-identification catalogs are searching for sighting records of the individual whale. This case highlights the critical value of collaboration. Information about the NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network can be found at http://www.marinemammalsnccnc.com/ and https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected/stranding/disentanglements/whale/alwdn.html.

Photos by Keith Rittmaster, NC Maritime Museum, under NOAA Fisheries permit.

entangled humpback whale

The whale’s tail (flukes) showing the entangling net and injury.

entangled humpback whale

The whale’s blowholes.

entangled humpback whale

The distinctive color patterns and scars on the flukes may be helpful in identifying this individual whale.

entangled humpback whale

The whale’s distinctive dorsal fin may be helpful in identifying this individual whale.

Bottlenose Dolphin “Holly”

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

It’s “Holly”, so it must be summer: Bottlenose dolphin sighting

One of our best known summer bottlenose dolphins in Beaufort is “Holly”.  We identify her by photos that show the 3 very distinct notches on her dorsal fin – a process called “photo-identification”.  She is a mom (likely a great-grandmother by now) who we first identified in Beaufort in July, 1989.  We’ve seen her nearly every summer since then, and her dorsal fin looks very much the same today (27 years later!).  We’ve seen bottlenose dolphin holly approximately 100 times between Beaufort and Cape Lookout over the years, but only between April and October.  Her sightings here peak in August.  We believe Holly spends winters in around Wrightsville Beach – we’re still trying to figure that out.  Holly is a well-known dolphin along our coast among people studying bottlenose dolphins and is featured in the Animatronic Dolphin Discovery exhibit at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.  We haven’t seen Holly as much as we used to so it was a special treat to see her in the Newport River twice so far this summer.  You can see more photos of Holly and try your photo-ID skills at http://www.capelookoutstudies.org/dolphin-id-game/.


bottlenose dolphin holly


Lethargic Dolphin Nov. 2015

Written by Tursiops. Posted in bottlenose dolphin photo ID, Cetacean Studies, Uncategorized

In August, 2015, during a routine atlantic bottlenose dolphin photo-ID survey, Keith Rittmaster and Josh Summers of nc maritime museum / cape lookout studies encountered a dolphin intermittently rafting lazily at the surface in Back Sound. It appeared to be an unusual behavior but we could not determine a problem so we photographed the bottlenose dolphin and continued on. It was subsequently reported by boaters in the same area in August because the behavior was conspicuous.

Then in early November, 2015 we received multiple reports of a tursiops truncatus (bottlenose dolphin) “disabled”, “dying”, “with a shredded tail”, and ultimately the last report (as of this writing) on November 5th, 2015 was that it was “dead floating upright” in Beaufort Inlet. Dead dolphins don’t float upright and we found what was reported as “dead” on November 5th very much alive, and its behavior recalled our August encounter in Back Sound. But again, not being able to determine a problem, we took photographs and moved on.

Subsequent examination of photos from the 2 encounters confirmed our suspicion that the dolphin we saw Nov. 5th in Beaufort Inlet was the same individual as the one we saw in Back Sound in August. Also evident in the dolphin identification image above [or below?] is 1) it appeared skinnier in November, 2) the injury on its left side in August has healed, and 3) it had fewer Xenobalanus barnacles on its dorsal fin in November. What was reported as a “shredded tail” was actually barnacles on the trailing edge of its tail (see photo).lethargic-dolphin-web-credit Tt-Xeno-flukes-web-credit

Humpback Whale, Cape Lookout, NC, Nov 5, 2015

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Conservation, Sighting Report, Uncategorized

IMG_5447-web-with-credit - Copy

The changing seasons bring new visitors to our waters here on the North Carolina Crystal Coast…

This time of year we anticipate sightings of our “winter” atlantic bottlenose dolphins arriving for their annual stay. Seldom do we encounter other species near shore, so the recent sighting of a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was an unusual treat.

In the western North Atlantic ocean, humpback whales feed during spring, summer, and fall in a range that encompasses from western Greenland south to the mid Atlantic region of the eastern coast of the United States. Their preferred diet consists mainly of krill and small schooling fish species.

In winter, whales from the North West Atlantic migrate to subtropical/tropical waters to mate and calve. Not all whales migrate south every winter however, and significant numbers of animals are found in mid- and high-latitude regions at this time.

Similar to all baleen whales, adult humpback whale females are larger than adult males, reaching lengths of up to 60 feet (18 m). Their body coloration is primarily dark grey, but individuals have a variable amount of white on their pectoral fins and belly. This variation is so distinct that the pigmentation pattern on the undersides of their “flukes” is used to identify individual whales, similar to a human fingerprint. Other markings on the body and fins are useful for identification as well. One of the most distinguishing characteristics for this species is the “humped” dorsal fin for which the species is named.

Once hunted heavily to near extinction levels, populations of humpback whales are increasing and in recovery. The species is a true marine mammal conservation success story.

During our rather lengthy encounter with this animal we were fortunate to witness and record multiple events of “lunge feeding” on large schools of menhaden (another heavily exploited species that is showing signs of a population increase due to a ban on large scale targeted harvesting).

Through some of the photographs taken by the crew of “Spyhop” we have successfully matched this animal to other recent local sightings of north carolina whales, and hope to use them for further whale identification studies.

If you happen to sight a whale, please enjoy the experience in a cautious manner and at a safe distance (see NOAA guidelines). These animals are large, and though peaceful, direct encounters with boats can be dangerous for both humans and whales.

north carolina humpback whale fluke

Dolphin Epimelitic Behavior, Nov. 1, 2015

Written by Tursiops. Posted in bottlenose dolphin photo ID, Conservation, Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Sighting Report, Uncategorized

On Sunday, Nov. 1st, Katrina Smith reported a floating dead north carolina dolphin in the Newport River near the ICW at the Morehead Beaufort Yacht Club. Upon arrival, Vicky Thayer (NCDMF and NCSU CMAST) and Keith Rittmaster (NCMM) of the NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network noticed it was being supported and moved by another dolphin, a behavior termed “epimeletic”. After approximately 90 minutes of taking photos and video, and seeking help, they (with volunteer Nelson Owens) brought the dead dolphin carcass onto Lee Sykes’ TowBoat US boat near the Morehead/Beaufort high-rise bridge 5 kilometers from where it was initially sighted. After a brief examine, they put it in the CMAST freezer for future necropsy. The most interesting aspect about this case so far is that the dead dolphin, the one being supported and pushed, was a non-lactating adult female. This is unusual because such epimeletic behavior has often been directed towards dead calves, but not towards an adult dolphin as far as we know.

Both bottlenose dolphins are in the nc maritime museum dorsal fin photo-ID catalog, although neither has been seen often. An upcoming necropsy as part of our ongoing dolphin research will yield more information about the dead dolphin, and hopefully future sightings of the “pusher” will teach us more about that dolphin as well.TBUS-VT-NO-Tt-web-credit