Featured Image Credit: Teresa Carey
By Sarah Sharkey
Keith Rittmaster is a marine mammal biologist, but he has a unique way of piecing together his data. In combination with various observations and measurements, while the animal is alive, he reconstructs skeletons of animals when he can. This special combination of data will help scientists continue to understand more and use that knowledge to protect these beloved animals.
How does he get these skeletons intact? He has created a graveyard specifically for marine mammals. His most recent edition was Moe, a bottlenose dolphin that Rittmaster had seen off the coast of North Carolina for years. When Moe died from an entanglement incident, Rittmaster was called by the North Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network to collect the body from the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Reserve.
Once he had identified the body and sample were taken from the animal, Rittmaster transported Moe to the graveyard for burial. After two years, he will dig up the grave and reassemble a perfectly intact skeleton. This data is almost impossible to find any other way.
The skeletal data will be used to answer a variety of questions that scientists cannot possibly glean from live animals in the wild. One use of the data will be to see how entanglements affect the bone structure of an animal.
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