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.
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.
Protecting marine wildlife is within your reach.
When you give to put monofilament recycling bins within reach of conscientious boaters and anglers.
It's a win, win, win – when you support our Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Please give generously to the Cape Lookout Studies Program.
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.
On or before January 30, 2004 a 33½ foot male sperm whale washed ashore dead on the west (ocean) beach of Power Squadron Spit near Cape Lookout. The whale was closely examined by NOAA scientists and NC State veterinarians and others to try and determine cause of death but none was found.
Portions of the whale will be saved for research and education.
Sperm whales have long life spans, some living as long as 70 years.
Squids of various sizes are the primary food of these large whales; the largest of all the known toothed whales.
On January 8, 2004 as we were running our bottlenose dolphin survey route along the offshore side of Shackleford Banks Nan saw something big in the distance. We quickly realized that we were looking at a whale. We changed our directions and went about a mile offshore where we saw a humpback whale heading south. Keith took these 2 pictures and we continued with our bottlenose dolphin survey.
2003 NC Student Grants
Photos by Keith Rittmaster
Congratulations to the 2003 “Protect Wild Dolphins” grant recipients and thank you for your good work.
Recipients are all NC graduate students doing research on bottlenose dolphins. The grants are to help them defray the cost of presenting their work at the Society for Marine Mammalogy XV Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals Dec. 14 through the 19th. in Greensboro, NC. Below is a list of the recipients with a short paragraph on how their research will help us protect and learn more about bottlenose dolphins. These grants are funded by the sale of the NC Maritime Museum’s “Protect Wild Dolphins” license plates.
Michelle Barbieri – UNCW
An assessment of seasonal changes in the dorsal fin surface temperatures of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay, FL, USA
The observed changes in dorsal fin surface temperatures, which reflect delivery of body heat to the periphery via blood flow, may influence the ability of an individual to dissipate excess body heat. A better understanding of the adaptive physiological mechanisms used by bottlenose dolphins, specifically the role of the dorsal fin in thermoregulation across a broad range of water temperatures, will provide the knowledge necessary to guide decisions regarding the health, in the case of incidental beach strandings, and conservation of wild dolphins. Though the particular project I am presenting focuses on dolphins in Sarasota Bay, I am collecting data for similar research in the Wilmington, NC area in hopes that this may help us understand the physiological adaptations of our local dolphins to environmental temperature as well.
Kim Fleming – UNCW
Social structure and behavior of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in relation to shrimp trawlers in Southport, NC
Most studies of dolphin-fishery interactions focus on negative aspects such as competition and entanglement. My research takes a novel approach by looking at potential impacts of fishery interactions on dolphin behavior and social structure. Using photo-identification, I am evaluating whether dolphins that interact with shrimp-trawlers in Southport, NC differ from those that do not with respect to their activity and association patterns.
Leigh G. Torres – Duke
Bottlenose dolphins as an indicator species of ecosystem restoration in Florida Bay
Habitat quality is an important factor in the management of wild dolphin populations. This work links various measurements of habitat quality to the distribution ecology and habitat use of bottlenose dolphins throughout Florida Bay.
Erin Meagher – UNCW
Seasonal differences in heat flux across multiple body surfaces in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
The work I will be presenting describes how wild bottlenose dolphins are able to regulate their body temperature across a range of ambient temperatures. These data will hopefully provide baseline information that will be useful for monitoring populations of dolphins as global warming changes their coastal ecosystem.
Robin Dunkin – UNCW
Blubber’s contribution to buoyancy throughout ontogeny in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
My work is going to help us understand the impact of changes in a dolphins blubber mass on functions such as buoyancy and thermoregulation. Additionally, it promotes the protection of wild dolphins by furthering our understanding of their basic physiology. This kind of information is a necessity for understanding energetic demands, potential natural and anthropogenic stresses, and a number of other parameters that influence the survivorship of wild dolphin populations.
Carter Morrissette – UNCW
Quantifying stereotypy of bottlenose dolphin signature whistles
My research focuses on quantifying features of bottlenose dolphin signature whistles, such as duration, frequency content, and inter-loop intervals. This work will provide insights as to what constitutes a single whistle, an issue that is currently quite controversial. This information could prove useful in situations where remote acoustic monitoring could be used to assess the number of dolphins in a particular area. Such a technique could be a valuable supplement to photo-identification for purposes of stock assessment and/or management.
June 14, 2003
|On June 14, 2003 I (Allen), Tabbie Merrills, Hugh Wilde, and Buddy Nance, were loading Spyhop at the old Coast Guard docks when Tabbie saw a dolphin swimming in the Bight heading toward a shallow area. As we watched the dolphin swam up to the shore. At first we didn’t think much about this because we often see dolphins in shallow water feeding. But when some kids approached the dolphin from the shore and the dolphin appeared to remain in the same place we knew something was wrong. We immediately placed a call to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to report a live stranding.
After talking with the local stranding coordinator, Gretchen Lovewell, it was decided to seek the advice of a veterinarian with the NCSU veterinarian school, Dr. Craig Harms. As luck would have it the Dr. Harms had kayaked to the Cape earlier that morning to climb the lighthouse and just happened to check his messages. We were all surprised to see him come kayaking up.
As Dr. Harms examined the dolphin we saw that a shark had bitten it and that it was listing to one side. It was a big dolphin and highly unlikely to have been bitten by a shark unless it was already weak. Dr. Harms thought this could be good candidate for rehabilitation so the decision was made to transport the dolphin to the NOAA Lab on Pivers Island.
We loaded the dolphin on to Haywood Holderness’s boat and transported the dolphin to Harkers Island where NOAA personnel Aleta Hohn , Annie Gorgone, Gretchen Lovewell, and Ari Friedlander from Duke met us. We loaded the dolphin into the back of a pickup truck, covered him with wet towels and transported him to the NOAA lab. Four of us rode in the back spraying him with water. At the NOAA Lab we unloaded the dolphin into a temporary pool. Dr. Harms took blood samples for analysis and tube fed him some liquids.
It was necessary for someone to be in the pool with him at all times to help him keep his head above water to breath and to keep him from listing to one side. Tabbie started contacting possible volunteers and making an around the clock schedule. We had volunteers from the local community, NOAA, Duke Marine Lab, NC Maritime Museum, and NCSU School of Veterinarian Medicine.
It was also necessary for us to provide some fish for him to eat. Hugh provided some frozen spots from his freezer. Leslie from William Smith Seafood in Beaufort kindly offered to help provide fish for food. Keith also provided some food, trashing his best cast net in the process. The dolphin would not eat so Dr. Harms made a fish slurry and tube fed him.
When the blood samples came back it was obvious that we had a very sick dolphin on our hands, but nobody gave up. Dr. Harms contacted the NCSU Veterinarian School and 2 veterinarian students came down from Raleigh to assist. Dr. Harms did everything possible to help the dolphin and spent countless hours with him, but he was an old sick dolphin and it was his time. When he died 3 days later, on June 17th, it was a sad time for all the people that had worked so hard to try and save him. The necropsy confirmed that he was a very sick dolphin.
Thanks to all the people that helped.
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.
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 (email@example.com, 252-504-2452) at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.|
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:
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.
Rescue boat skippered by John Atkins approaches leatherback sea turtle struggling in net.
Netted leatherback sea turtle struggling to surface for air by rescue boat.
Leatherback sea turtle ashore with net still attached
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. The pink spots on top can be used in Photo-ID. CLSP has started a leatherback catalog.
Rescued leatherback sea turtle returns to sea – YEAH!!
by Keith Rittmaster and Leonard DeDuke, 5 March, 1997
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.