• 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.

The Main Players

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Here are Keith Rittmaster and NanBowles, the long time CapeLookout/Dolphin ID staff. Keith is Curator of Natural Sciences for the North Carolina Maritime Museum. It is surprizingly often that you will see Keith carrying a marine mammal skeleton somewhere, on the phone is pretty typical also - on the boat picture is coming. Nan, who is usually pretty colorful, manages the data for Dolphin Photo ID Project and whatever else needs doing. Everyone here is very good at wearing multiple hats. She has the best ‘dolphin spotting’ eyes out on the boat. I am a helper who is doing this blog. Any errors are my responsibility. There are many wonderful volunteers who keep everything from boat engines to morale in excellent condition.photos by Brooks

Cutty and Neonate

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Cutty‘ was seen swimming with her newborn calf Sunday, May 24th, 2009 in the Newport River. The Newport River goes past Beaufort NC up to Core Creek and is also the Intracoastal Waterway (a couple of us live here too). This is a place where moms and calves are often seen spring and summer - some refer to this area as the ‘nursery’. We have seen Cutty since 1985 in the Beaufort area although not every year. We also have seen her with other calves. We are excited. In the picture you can see the fetal folds (the dark lines across the back of the calf). Like us, they pretty much have to curl up in the uterus due to lack of space. She was with 2 other dolphins when she was seen.
photo by Keith Rittmaster

Spyhop Log becomes Spyhop Log blog

Written by Keith_Rittmaster. Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome as Spyhop Log moves into the 21st century by becoming Spyhop Log Blog. Expanded mission, some changes and lots of activity. Keep checking with us.
Our biggest change is the Bonehenge Project that started in 2004 with a stranded Sperm Whale at Cape Lookout, NC. That whale’s skeleton is now being prepared to be re-articulated and will eventually hang in the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, NC. Check all the info and pictures at Bonehenge.org. It’s fascinating - just last month there were 6,644 hits.

We continue our 18 year Bottlenose Dolphin photo ID work in Beaufort, NC with a NOAA Fisheries protected species research permit.
And we respond to Marine Mammal Strandings in our area and help with necropsies. Over the past year there have been both dolphins and whales.

Our NC Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program keeps growing and we just sent off 31 pounds of of monofilament line (that’s a lot) for recycling. We now have 39 recepatcles installed at key fishing sites and shops with more on the way.

Pictures and more details will follow, at least you know we are still doing the work and are very much alive and well.

Student dolphin research grants awarded (2005)

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

2005 NC Student Grants

Photos by Keith Rittmaster

Congratulations to the 2005 “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 Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium March 18-20, 2005 in Wilmington, 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 goal of this study was to investigate the physiological and behavioral responses of resident bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota, Florida to seasonal changes in water temperature. Dorsal fin surface temperatures of free-swimming dolphins were measured across seasons using infrared thermography. This direct physiological measurement was paired with an assessment of how water temperature and dolphin distribution changed seasonally throughout the study area. Assessment of how these physiological and behavioral mechanisms interact is important in understanding bottlenose dolphin thermoregulation. These data describe the ability of dolphins to respond to environmental fluctuation, and can provide insight into thermal stress as well as the implications of global climate change for resident and migratory marine mammals. Seasonal distribution data may also be used to inform local management decisions, specifically in areas with rapidly developing coastlines, such as the Sarasota Bay region.

Victoria Thayer - Duke

Effort to disentangle a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) calf in Beaufort, North Carolina

Entanglement is an important conservation problem for marine mammals in many parts of the world. In January 2005, we sighted a bottlenose dolphin calf swimming with an odd surfacing posture alongside its presumed mother in the waters near Beaufort, North Carolina. The mother was known from ongoing collaborative studies in the area by North Carolina Maritime Museum and the Duke University Marine Laboratory. Photographs taken that day and the following day confirmed suspicions that the animal’s swimming ability was severely hampered, likely by fishing gear not visible at the surface. The decision was made to intervene and capture the pair. Unfortunately, the calf died while restrained; post-mortem examination revealed extensive entanglement of 40 lb test monofilament line that had cut deeply into the mandible and caudal peduncle, and fungal sinusitis. The female was released and has subsequently been photographed with other dolphins. This case study reinforces the threat posed by discarded recreational and commercial fishing gear to marine wildlife. We hope to educate fishermen in North Carolina about appropriate means of discarding unwanted line by instituting a program similar to the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program in Florida.

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 regulate their body temperature across seasonal changes in environmental temperature. Understanding these mechanisms may provide insight into their seasonal distributions and will hopefully provide baseline information that will be useful for monitoring populations of dolphins as global warming changes their coastal ecosystem.

Ari Friedlaender - Duke

Historic and recent mass stranding events of short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) on the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts

Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are known to mass strand along both the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. These events offer scientists unique opportunities to gain insight into the biology, physiology, ecology, behavior, and social dynamics of the species. The Smithsonian Institution has compiled over 50 mass stranding event records from 1896 to 2005, ranging from 3 to 140 animals. Mass stranding events are most common in the Gulf of Mexico in August, while February and October have the highest incidence along the US Atlantic coast. The average group size of mass strandings is higher along the US Atlantic coast (23.86) than the Gulf of Mexico (17.57), as is the average number of mass stranding events per year (0.42 versus 0.22). The most recent mass stranding event in January 2005 in North Carolina highlights the ability of marine mammal stranding networks to mobilize from various institutions and collect the highest quality tissue samples from a large number of animals. These samples will be used for myriad research projects to, in unprecedented detail, investigate both the cause of the stranding event and learn about the biology of short-finned pilot whales.

2003 NC Student Grants awarded

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

2003 NC Student Grants
Oct 21, 2003

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.

Green Sea Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Rescue of juvenile green sea turtle

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.

Plastron View

Carapace covered in big barnacles

Transferring turtle to Wendy

Installation of the Solar Hot Water Heating System

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Installation of the Solar Hot Water Heating System

by Allen Brooks, March 29-31, 2002

The NC Maritime Museum’s Cape Lookout Studies program is proud to announce the donation of a “state-of-the-art” solar water heating system, including installation, from the NC Solar Center, North Carolina State University.

Their web site address is www.ncsc.ncsu.edu. Shawn Fitzpatrick - Solar Engineering Specialist, Kurt Creamer - Solar Engineering Specialist, and Christine Maurer - Graduate Research Assistant, of the NC Solar Center installed the solar hot water system at Cape Lookout over the Easter Weekend. The crew worked hard and late into the night returning to Raleigh at 5 AM Easter Sunday Morning. We really appreciate this donation and hard work and look forward to showing it off to our participants this summer. This donation will result in a major decrease in the use of fossil fuel at the field station for hot water. Assisting in the installation were NC Maritime Museum Volunteers Hugh Wilde, Ralph Merrill, Tabbie Merrill, and Allen Brooks. We are also grateful for support toward this project from Cyndy Mann, Steve Hassenfelt, Roger Mays, and Ranny + Lillie Pearce.

Unloading the solar hot water heater equipment at the field station.

Work begins with a planning session led by Shawn. Shawn was Keith’s initial contact with the NC Solar Center. Shawn decided to donate a solar water heating system after viewing our web site. Sam Bryan is our volunteer Webmaster who provides the site. Thanks Sam!

Christine helping to run copper water pipes into the basement.

Kurt installing fittings on the solar hot water storage tank. The water in this tank circulates through the solar collectors when the sun is out. Hot water from this tank will feed into the existing hot water heater on the left.

Hugh and Ralph begin construction on the solar collectors support frame that will eventually hold 3 solar water collectors.

Hugh and Ralph measuring to make sure the support frame will be square.

Tabbie making sure Ralph doesn’t get sunburned. Tabbie took care of the kitchen and kept us all well fed. She even cleaned the bathroom. Thanks Tabbie!

Christine taking a turn on the posthole diggers. Thanks Christine!

Shawn and Kurt cut a support block for the Solar Side-Bar assembly.

Kurt, Shawn, Ralph, Christine, and Hugh install the first solar water collector.

The moment of truth, is it square? It was. Thanks Ralph and Hugh!

Kurt putting his back into it. Thanks Kurt!

Shawn giving a demo on soldering copper pipe. None of this would have been possible without Shawn. We look forward to hosting alternative energy seminars with the NC Solar Center. Again their web site address is www.ncsc.ncsu.edu. Thanks Shawn!

The solar hot storage tank with Solar Sidebar assembly.

The Solar Sidebar assembly. Located on bottom left is a small solar pump that circulates water from the solar storage tank through the solar collectors and back to the tank. On the top left is a readout of the temperature of the water in the tank and the water returning from the solar collectors. In the middle is a flow gauge to monitor the flow of water through the tank.

The solar storage tank connected to the cold-water input of the existing gas water heater.

The Solar Photovoltaic panel that powers the circulation pump. The Solar Photovoltaic panel also controls a thermostatic valve that allows circulation through the collectors when the sun is out and allows the system to drain at night.

The completed solar collector installation. Water from the solar storage tank enters the bottom of each collector. Water from the top of each collector returns to the storage tank. At the top right is an air vent. Each collector has a volume of 0.8 gallons.

This is a great addition to the alternative energy systems at the NC Maritime Museum’s Cape Lookout Field Station. All of the electricity used at the Field Station is provided by alternative energy systems. In the front are the solar photovoltaic panels that help provide the electricity at the Field Station. A wind generator provides the rest.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
Turtle Rescue

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.

Author of the article,
Martha Crooker

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!!

Loggerhead Turtle Rescue

Written by Tursiops. Posted in Uncategorized

Loggerhead Turtle Rescue

     by Allen Brooks, July 12,2001

One of the activities we try to involve participants in is Sea Turtle Conservation so during turtle nesting season we regularly patrol the beach early in the morning looking for signs of turtle nesting activity.

This past July 12 around 7 am we found a 350 lb female Loggerhead half buried in the sand below the high tide line at the very tip of the point. We thought she was dead until we looked at her eye and she looked back.

The turtle was very weak, skinny and had a damaged peak  The Carapace has carpet of reddish algae and barnacles.

Keith made some calls and it was decided that we would transport the turtle to the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach, NC. Along with some kids on an outing with the Coastal Federation we transported the turtle to the old Coast Guard dock.

The turtle was loaded onto Spyhop and covered with wet towels for the ride to Harker’s Island. She was so big it took 5 guys to carry her to the boat.

At Harker’s Island we were met by Susana Clusella, the assistant sea turtle coordinator for North Carolina, who drove her the remainder of the way to the The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. Visit The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital’s web site:

This lucky turtle completely recovered thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital and was released in the Spring of 2002 at Topsail Island. The hospital staff had named her “Cape” and had become quite attached after feeding, bathing, and caring for her for almost a year. When Cape got near the ocean there was no stopping her, she was going home. Good Luck Cape!