Bottlenose Dolphin Caitlin, photographed since 1993

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

On Thursday, May 31, 2018, NCMM Natural Science Curator Keith Rittmaster and Research Assistant Nan Bowles headed out into the Newport River on the research vessel Spyhop in search of bottlenose dolphins. They encountered a group of five dolphins. One of the dolphins was a well-known female named “Caitlin”. Caitlin was first identified in Beaufort on June 14, 1993 by examining photographs showing the distinct notches on her dorsal fin, a process called photo-identification. Keith has photographed Caitlin every summer since 1993 – a total of 80 days over 25 years. She has only been seen in Beaufort during the months of April through October. Caitlin has also been seen in Wilmington, North Carolina by researchers doing similar work.  Another dolphin seen that day was a presumably young mother with her neonate (new-born calf). We have documented a birth peak of bottlenose dolphin in April/May each year. This young mom’s dorsal fin was smooth (no notches), therefore not identified.

Find out more about local bottlenose dolphin photo-identification.

Photos by Keith Rittmaster under NOAA/NMFS permit.

bottlenose dolphin caitlin





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


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