4th Annual NC Whales & Whaling Symposium

North Carolina Maritime Museum plans 4th Annual NC Whales & Whaling Symposium, April 12, 2019

The public will have the opportunity to learn about the cetaceans inhabiting the waters off North Carolina once again this year at the North Carolina Maritime Museum’s Whales and Whaling Symposium. This day-long event includes several presentations focusing on whales and historic hunting practices in North Carolina and adjacent waters. Participants will learn which species of whales can be found in our coastal waters and further offshore, how and where some of these species were hunted regionally, and the contributions prepared skeletal specimens make to research, conservation, and education. There will also be special exhibits enabling participants to interact with bones, baleen, teeth, oil, and more. Historians, biologists, naturalists, environmentalists, and educators share experiences and knowledge through a series of presentations and displays appropriate for all audiences.

“The Whales and Whaling Symposium blends the cultural and historical aspects of whaling with the cutting edge scientific research that is going on here,” said North Carolina Maritime Museum Curator John Hairr. “With our long tradition of whaling and the rich diversity of marine mammals, the North Carolina coast is one of the best places in the world to see and understand how they all interrelate. Forty species of marine mammals including seals, manatees, dolphins and whales, have been documented off North Carolina as strandings, whaling targets, and live sightings.”

The Symposium takes place at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort on April 12, 2019 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. It is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

Speakers include experts with many years of experience dealing with the history, biology, conservation, and pedagogy of whales and whaling specifically in North Carolina. Presentations will last approximately forty-five minutes, with time left at the end for questions.

Throughout the day, visitors will also have the opportunity to see educational displays about whales and whaling. These displays will include the rearticulated skeleton from an Atlantic spotted dolphin, Stenella frontalis, prepared by Natural Science Curator Keith Rittmaster and his volunteers. Sometimes known as Cuvier’s dolphin and Gulf Stream dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin is the most abundant cetacean species found in North Carolina waters, though they rarely come close inshore.

North Carolina Maritime Museum Natural Science Curator Keith Rittmaster will give an overview of the many species of whales seen in North Carolina waters. Rittmaster has spent his career studying cetaceans, alive and dead, and preparing/displaying their skeletons. He served as a marine mammal observer aboard research vessels in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Cook Inlet, Alaska, and the Western North Atlantic Ocean. He is a member of the North Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the North Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network. He directs a long-term (since 1985) local bottlenose dolphin photo-identification study and the North Carolina Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program. Keith will discuss the diversity of whales off our coast, and some of the conservation issues they face.

Mr. Rittmaster is a recipient of the 2016 Pelican Awards from the North Carolina Coastal Federation. He was recognized for his dedication to the research and protection of marine mammals.

“I’m continually amazed at the abundance and diversity of whales (and their behaviors) in North Carolina,” stated Mr. Rittmaster. “I look forward to presenting some of what we’re learning about whales in North Carolina along with current conservation issues impacting them.”

North Carolina Maritime Museum Curator John Hairr will examine reports of encounters with killer whales off the North Carolina coast. In addition to being head of the NC Maritime Museum’s Education section, Hairr is a North Carolina author, historian, and environmental educator who has studied both North Carolina’s history and environment for decades. Orcas are rarely seen in North Carolina waters, the earliest report being that of explorer and naturalist John Lawson in 1709.  By examining the scientific literature as well as early historical accounts of orcas that were recorded from North Carolina, Hairr will document the presence of killer whales from the Colonial Period into the early 21st century.

A break will be provided at noon for participants to enjoy lunch at any of Beaufort’s local restaurants.

Jacqueline Bort is a Marine Resources Specialist focusing on acoustics for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia (NAVFAC) under the Marine Resources Department. She received her B.S. in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she worked as undergraduate coordinator for the UNCW Marine Mammal Stranding Program. She received her M.Phil. in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, where she also worked as Assistant Stranding Coordinator for Allied Whale. Her thesis focused on the acoustic behavior of North Atlantic right whales in a potential wintering ground in the Gulf of Maine. She has 10 years of experience in marine mammal stranding response, having also worked for the Virginia Aquarium and the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute. Jackie began working for the U.S. Navy in 2013, first as a contractor through Science Applications International Corporation for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and now as a government civilian at NAVFAC.

Research Biologist at University of North Carolina Wilmington and North Carolina State Stranding Coordinator, William McLellan will give a history of the North Carolina Stranding Network that has been actively investigating marine mammal strandings for over 150 years, making it one of the longest running stranding investigations in the world. Much of the early history involves specimen collection by the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) that, in recent years, has continued with local expertise. North Carolina regularly has among the highest number of marine mammal strandings of any state on the east coast and has the highest species diversity of any state in the country. Recent elevated numbers of endangered large whale strandings has caused great concern and the response and data provided by North Carolina stranding partners will be discussed.

North Carolina Maritime Museum Associate Museum Curator Benjamin Wunderly will present on the wreck of the whaling schooner Seychelle at Cape Lookout, that occurred during the Great Beaufort Hurricane of August 1879. Wunderly has worked for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for the past twenty years, researching, writing and presenting on numerous topics related to North Carolina’s coastal region, specifically its environment and culture. The underlying themes of his work have focused on the human connection to our coastal resources and how they have developed over the past three centuries. The Seychelle, out of Provincetown, Massachusetts, was set to operate off the North Carolina coast when it happened to fall victim to the devastating hurricane, also  known as Old Cook’s Storm after the captain of this New England whaleship. Wunderly will examine some of the pelagic whaling operations that occurred off our state, during a time when most whaling activity in North Carolina was shore based, and reveal some accounts of one of the area’s most devastating storms.

“This program has received a wide range of interest already from local residents to the educational community,” according to Mr. Hairr. “We are fortunate to have the quality of talent available to share their amazing experiences with the participants.”

Mr. Hairr had nothing but high praise for the number of people the event draws. “With the interest and curiosity in North Carolina whales, we expect this year to be completely full,” he said.

2019 Whales and Whaling Symposium Agenda

10:00 a.m.


John Hairr, Curator of Education, North Carolina Maritime Museum

10:05 a.m.

Whales of North Carolina

Keith Rittmaster, Curator of Natural Science, North Carolina Maritime Museum

11:00 a.m.

Killer Whales off the Carolina Coast

John Hairr, North Carolina Maritime Museum Curator

12:00 p.m.

Break for Lunch

1:00 p.m.

U.S. Navy Environmental Compliance and Marine Mammal Monitoring

Jacqueline Bort is a Marine Resources Specialist, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia (NAVFAC)

2:00 p.m.

Large Whale Strandings: A History of Response in North Carolina

William McLellan, Research Biologist at University of North Carolina Wilmington and North Carolina State Stranding Coordinator.

3:00 p.m.

Wreck of the Whale Ship Seychelle During the Great Beaufort Hurricane of 1879

Benjamin Wunderly, North Carolina Maritime Museum Associate Museum Curator

4:00 p.m.

Program Ends

The Symposium gives participants and the audience a chance to meet, talk, and discover various fields of interest and share years of knowledge and expertise.

Participants are encouraged to register in advance by calling the NC Maritime Museum Program Registrar Francis Hayden at 252-504-7758 or via email at frances.hayden@ncdcr.gov. Early registration is encouraged to ensure seating. If you would like to receive a list of local accommodations so you can book your stay early, please let her know.

The North Carolina Maritime Museum is located at 315 Front Street in Beaufort, NC. The Museum is open Monday thru Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Museums is open to the public with free admission. Donations are always appreciated. For more information on educational programs and events, visit www.ncmaritimemuseumbeaufort.com or call 252-504-7740.