• 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.

Live Harp Seal on Harkers Island, NC

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

 Last Thursday afternoon (Feb. 24th, 2011) Frank and Peggy Guthrie reported a live seal on the shore near their home on Harkers Island.  Keith drove there right away and found a harp seal (see photo), which eventually entered the water and swam away.  This may be a new species for Carteret County, but interestingly in the past 2 weeks there have been 2 other harp seals photographed in NC – one at Kill Devil Hills and one on Masonboro Island.  Examining the photos carefully, we have determined that these sighting are of 3 different individual harp seals.

   During winter months, sightings of seals on beaches and in waters of North Carolina are becoming increasingly frequent.  North Carolina is considered part of the normal winter range for harbor seals, our most common seal visitor (see photo).  But recently we have seen 3 additional seal species (gray, hooded, and harp seals) in NC, all of which we consider out of their more northern normal range.  Distinguishing individual seal species can be tricky and generally requires experience and/or a good guide book.  Evaluating their health status is an even greater challenge.  Lying on beaches is a normal behavior for seals and they generally don’t need to be rescued.  If a seal is sighted on a beach in Carteret or adjacent counties, please call the NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 252-241-5119 so we can confirm the species ID and attempt to evaluate its health.  Please do not attempt to pet or feed the seal as this is illegal and can be dangerous.  Please give them a wide berth and do not crowd, harass, or agitate them.  Please try to respect their beauty without being noticed, enjoy the view, and learn more about seals by visiting http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/.

Gervais’ beaked whale Strands on Atlantic Beach, NC

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Their mouths don’t open wide and
the females do not have erupted teeth.
(Males generally have 2 erupted teeth). 

 Vicky G. Thayer, Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for mid-coast North Carolina, was contacted about a marine mammal stranded at Atlantic Beach, NC on Thursday, February 10, 2011 . The whale was at water’s edge when found. It was a sub-adult female Gervais’ beaked whale, Mesoplodon europaeus, not a whale that commonly strands here. 

Scars from Cookie Cutter Sharks, 
not unusual for off-shore marine mammals
Notice that there is no notch in
the tail flukes 

Moving the whale out of the water
and onto the beach with a 4-wheel

The whale was so heavy that we had 

to take air out of the tires

to keep towing her in the sand.

In just 3 hours the bruising in her jaw became more
evident. Later, it was discovered that beneath this
bruise were two fractures of her jaw.

It was exciting to be able to weigh the whale since that was data not often collected because of the complexity of having all the equipment at hand. Carl brought a generator; county employees brought and drove the backhoe and Keith got the load cell. Many of us took pictures while knots were tied the whale readied to be hoisted up.

Weighing the whale.

Removing the blubber.

The local  crew. 
More scientists arrive from
Wilmington, NC to help. 
While we were working with this
dead whale, live whales and dolphins
were sighted in the ocean.                                          
Data sheets are like gold, as this
is where all information is recorded. 

The stomach.
Getting samples is not always easy.

Measuring the depth of
the blubber along the
length of the body.


She had a very small dorsal fin.

At the Vet School, her skull was
examined with both an MRI and a
CT. After that, her skull was dissected and more samples taken for study.

At the Vet School, when the skull was dissected
 two jaw fractures were discovered. They 

correspond to the location of the bruises.
You can see the large crescent shaped
blow hole in this picture.


Remains not taken to Vet school were left on the
beach to be buried the next morning wi
th a backhoe.

Skull, bones and samples are loaded
on the pick-up to be taken to NC Vet
School in Raleigh,NC for further investigation.

We finished just as it was getting dark.
During the afternoon it had gotten progressively colder. Fortunately, midway through the afternoon, Keith brought us a large bag of french fries. Since my hands  were clean, I put  handfuls in the mouths of hungry people whose hands were bloody.
The success of this entire endeavor was due to an incredible collaboration between NC DMF, NCSU, CVM, CMAST, NC Maritime Museum, NC Atlantic Beach Public Works and numerous individual volunteers.
(See blog entry for April 7, 2011 for more detail on this whale) 

Marine Mammal Day at North Carolina Museum of Natural Science

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

On January 29, we participated in Marine Mammal day at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.We were busy demonstrating how we make molds of our sperm whale teeth and  how we paint the replica teeth to make them realistic.We educated folks about our Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program; our Marine Mammal Stranding Network; the skeletal structure of whales and dolphins and our dolphin photo ID program. In addition to using words and pictures, we used our ‘dolphin fin matching’ game to teach in an interactive way. It was a fun, tiring and successful day.

Pictures from Marine Mammal Day at Raleigh Museum of
Natural Science, January 29. Photos by Keith Rittmaster


Removing Bones from Pectoral Fins of Bottlenose Dolphins

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

First the fins were boiled on a camp stove in a fish poacher for 5 hours.The poacher may not be used in the kitchen again. When the bones are clean and ready to use, Keith makes anatomically correct Bottlenose dolphin pectoral fin boards.
Cooking the fins
Fin resting on left edge of the poaching pan filled with fat
The bones with flesh hanging on
Lindsey digging out bones
phalanges and carpals in jar

Lindsey is digging all the bones out of each fin 
and searching through all the ‘goo’ for any errant bones. Having gloves on is essential or she could carry the smell for a very long time. The bones were then rinsed in Dawn, ammonia and boiling water multiple times.  Keith (Lindsey had gone home) scrubbed each bone intensely with a wire brush and re-washed the bones several more times. The last photo shows the bones becoming cleaner and lighter in a mixture of 5% peroxide and water.

Neonate Photos From January 31st

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Photo by Keith Rittmaster
The neonate with his/her presumed mom and, below, alone. You can see how he/she is darker and still has the fetal folds. Like us, they don’t fit in the womb without curling up and the light fold lines are from that bending. The lines gradually disappear. When born their dorsal fin is also floppy in order to get through the birth canal more easily. If you look carefully at the top picture, you will see another dolphin directly underneath the infant. Interesting image.
Photo by Keith Rittmaster

In the picture below, which I think is very cute, you can see how short the newborn’s rostrum is. You can also see the eye beyond the line of the mouth. I love the water that looks like it is coming off the dorsal fin and the little bit of moisture rising above his/her blowhole. Notice also that the upper and lower jaw are the same length, whereas an adult dolphin has a pronounced under bite. Quite possibly the even jaw line facilitates nursing.

Photo by Keith Rittmaster

Photo by Keith Rittmaster
These two photos show the neonate traveling between two adult dolphins and so close to the adult that is probably mom.This will be a long relationship with an extended period of nursing and lots of learning. If the neonate is a female, she might well return to this same group of females to raise her own young. 

Photo by Keith Rittmaster

2010 Thank you donors, volunteers, contributors and collaborators.

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Thank You / Volunteer

Listed below are individuals/groups whose generosity helped sustain the Cape Lookout Studies Program in 2010 by providing printer ink, photo paper, office supplies, bolt cutters, vice, band saw, dremmel tool, lodging in Rhode Island, Bonehenge.org bone adoptions, boat batteries, tools, propane, hardware, cleaning supplies, lumber, hand soap, food, notebooks, XM Radio subscription, web hosting fees, web site maintenance, drill bits, boat fuel, boat use, $6,064 in cash donations/grants, and approximately 2,000 hours of volunteer time.  THANK YOU!!  Sincere thanks also go out to everyone who has an NC “Protect Wild Dolphins” special license plates which raised for Friends of the Museum a total of $12,660 in 2010.   The dolphins thank you too.

Amy ThullenArcher Daniels Midland Co.Arthur Mattmiller
Beaufort Middle School
Bella Larson
Beth Bockoven
Bonnie Monteleone
Bruce McCutcheon
Bud and Anna Doughton
Cape Lookout Nat’l Seashore
Carl Spangler
Carolina Cay Maritime Found.
Collette Mattmiller
Craig Harms
Dail Bridges
Dana Henderson
Daphne Littiken
David Brown
Dick Barmore
Elizabeth White
Friends of the Museum
Green River Preserve
Heidi Gordon
Haywood + Mary Holderness
Howard Lineberger
Hugh Wilde
Janet Frye
Janet Thayer
Jim Thullen
Jim and Kathi Fudesco
John Brewer
John Hammond
John Russell
Josh Summers
Karen Davis
Karen Hattman
Keith Rittmaster
Kim Merrels
Larry Copeland
Lora Fasolino
Nan Bowles
Nelson Owens
NOAA Fisheries
Patti Owens
Paul Nader
Paula Gilliken
Pudge McCutcheon
Sea Stewards
Sherry York
Steve Hassenfelt
Terry Greene
The Lookout Foundation
Tom Kirmeyer
Tom Lenweaver
Triangle Community Found.
Vic Fasolino
Vicky Thayer
Virginia Stambaugh
Will and Martha Rabert
William Prentice

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

Great Last Day of 2010

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

We surveyed the estuary and the coastal ocean off Shackleford Banks today for Photo ID and what a last trip of the year. We recorded a total of 147 dolphins (that’s alot).This included 5 calves; 2 ‘young of the year’ and most exciting was a neonate. He/she was dark with very clear folds and was very bouncy. Two of the young calves had visible folds also. The water was clear and we could actually see the neonate nursing. Wow!! We are not yet sure if we have a video of that, but I will definitely post some pictures next week.
Happy New Year.

Dolphin Photo ID and Marine Mammal Strandings for November 2010

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

November updates from Cape Lookout Studies Program.

Dolphin Photo ID

We were out on the water doing dolphin photo ID 6 days in November. We had 9 distinct sightings with 108 identified dolphins. The dolphins were often in Gallants Channel or the Morehead Port turning basin.

Marine Mammal Strandings   
Vicky Thayer, head of North Carolina Mid-Coast Marine Mammal Strandings, reports that there were a total of 5 strandings:  One spotted dolphin on Bird Shoal and 4 bottlenose dolphins – 2 were on South Core, 1 on Bear Island, and a juvenile male, pictured, found dead  2 miles offshore.  The one from Bear Island was very fresh and was saved in the NOAA freezer to use for the upcoming stranding volunteer workshop. 
 Also, Vicky told us “someone called distressed because an “otter” was on a channel marker in the Cape Fear River.  From the photo and description she sent me, it appears to be a healthy, alert harbor seal with normal posture and behavior. It looks a whole lot like California to me where sea lions hang out on buoys”.

October Bottlenose Dolphin Photo-ID

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in bottlenose dolphin photo ID

 The migratory pulse has arrived, along with loads of Xenobalanus barnacles on fins. As in previous Octobers, we saw lots of airborne dolphins. Monthly sighting statistics for NOAA Fisheries protected species research permit No. 779-1633-00 were:
We were on the water 6 days (in October) with 10 distinct sightings.This yielded a total of 195 identifiable dolphins.

Haywood Holderness – the “fun” in fundraising

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Thank You / Volunteer

Keith keeps asking me to add information to the staff page about all Haywood Holderness has done for the Cape Lookout Studies Program.We are al so grateful for everything you’ve done to support the ongoing efforts of the program.

Below is a scan of Keith’s writing for a 1996 newsletter that helped us secure the research vessel Spyhop.

Just one example of Keith’s valuable and creative support for Cape Lookout Studies.

Field Guides & Turtle Watch