• 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.

Keith’s NOAA Cruise

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Keith will be taking leave from NCMM to serve as a scientist (marine mammal observer) aboard the 225′ NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (http://www.moc.noaa.gov/gu/) in the deep blue Atlantic Ocean.
He will be part of a team of 14 scientists including other marine mammal observers, oceanographers, birders, and acousticians.  Their study area will be off the Atlantic coast between 28d & 38d N latitude, inshore to the 50 meter isobath and offshore to the U.S. Economic Exclusion Zone (approx. 200 miles offshore). This area includes two historic sperm whaling destinations (“Hatteras Ground” and “Charleston Ground”) which is of particular interest to him.  The primary objective of the cruise is to help estimate abundance and distribution of whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in the U.S. Atlantic waters.  His responsibilities will include standing watch on 25×150 military binoculars (termed “big eyes”) searching for cetaceans, directing the ship to any sightings, identifying the species, and counting the individuals.  Other projects on board: 24/7 acoustic monitoring, biopsying whales for DNA, oceanographic profiling (temperature, oxygen, conductivity, productivity, and plankton at various depths), and identifying birds, sea turtles, and other marine wildlife.
He plans to provide  periodic dispatches (with photos) for blog posting.

Dwarf Sperm Whale Sighting and Subsequent Stranding

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Dwarf Sperm whale (Kogia sima) sighting and Subsequent Stranding
On April 1st, 2011 we received a report of a lone dolphin swimming in an unusual manner near a dock in Morgan creek between Beaufort and Morehead city. The caller was concerned that it might be in trouble. We arrived to an unusual sight. From a distance it has a dolphin -like appearance, but it’s logging” at the surface with infrequent dives was behavior more like that of a pygmy or dwarf sperm whale. We went back to our Gallants channel docks and returned in our trusty boat Spyhop to get a better look with Keith, Nan, Vicky and Brooks on board. It was indeed a dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima). This pelagic (open ocean) species occasionally strands on our NC beaches but it is very unusual to see a live one swimming in the estuary or even close to shore. A local resident who was fishing nearby told us it had been there for several days.
Stranding network staff and volunteers from NC Division of Marine fisheries, the NC Maritime Museum, and NC State University CMAST monitored the whale’s position and behavior throughout the day and following morning. On Saturday April 2nd, the whale was seen at 4:30 am but then was not seen again until it was sighted dead in adjacent marshes around noon. It was a 7′ (218 cm) long male and weighed 322 pounds (146 kg). We froze the Kogia sima carcass for future necropsy and study.
kogia sima

Interesting Brain Mass to Body Mass Percentages

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

When the the Gervais’ beaked whale stranded back in February, we were excited to be able to weight the whale on the beach. With subsequent skull dissection in the lab it was learned that this whale’s brain weight, or mass, to body weight, or mass, was approximately 0.25%.    
Below are some comparative values of brain mass to body mass percentages from  other species:


beaked whale – 0.25%

right whale – 0.004% (their testicles are much larger than their brains)
sperm whale – 0.02% (but their brain is the largest on earth)
bottlenose dolphin – 0.96%
human – 2.1%-2.5%
mouse – 2.5%

We may have to rethink this whole ‘intelligence/brain meaning’.
(See February 25th, 2011 blog entry about this whale’s stranding).   



Humpback Whale in Core Sound

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized



During the week of March 7th, 2011, a 27′ male humpback whale was seen swimming then later, stranded in Core Sound.  It had 8 propeller cuts, some long and deep, forward of the dorsal fin.  By Friday it had been aground for at least 2 days, weakened with entanglement scars, scavenger damage (shark and birds), curved spine, abraded skin, anemic, leaning in a hole it had wallowed out in the sand, and still alive – a sad sight.  A team that included staff and volunteers from NC State Univ. Center for Marine and Sciences Technology, UNC-Wilmington, NC Division of Marine Fisheries, NC Maritime Museum, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Tow Boat/US euthanized the whale and performed a necropsy.  In addition to the team’s collection of measurements and tissue samples, Keith brought back the left pectoral flipper for research, education, and display.  This investigation will enhance our knowledge of large whale anatomy and physiology.  The flipper measures 9′ long and 25″ at its widest point, and weighs ~260 pounds.  The short term goal is to get radiology, CT scan, and MRI images of this fin.  Long term, he plans to prepare the bones and eventually create a display with the images and bones.  Despite the sad nature of this event, each live marine mammal stranding offers a rare opportunity for scientists and veterinarians to learn more about these fascinating creatures. The information gained can be used to minimize suffering in live stranded cetaceans and contribute to marine mammal conservation.
Here’s a bit of media coverage about the whale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWNlAoK2FIg

Look at the entry for April 15, 2011 to see what we are doing with one of the flippers of this whale.

Field Guides & Turtle Watch

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