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Starting with a bang!

August 11, 2011

Our trip started with a bang – literally! Our front right tire blew out on Highway 64 near Zebulon, but, thanks to Martha’s driving skills, no one was hurt and we were able to gently pull off the road. With help from the Zebulon Police and Museum staff back in Raleigh, we tracked down a service that could bring a new tire and make the change right there, on the side of the road. Not wanting to waste a moment, we spent this two-hour delay working on our journals and making UV bead bracelets. The beads in our new bracelets change color when exposed to UV light and are a great reminder to wear sunscreen.

We got back on the road and headed to Jennette’s Pier, a new facility run by the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. This amazing LEED-certified pier has wind turbines and uses reclaimed water in its toilets. The pier provides the public with easy access to fishing or walking out to see what others have caught. We enjoyed meeting staff from the aquarium and made the most of our brief visit to walk around outside.

Our next destination was the Virginia Aquarium and Science Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We met researcher Susan Barco, who studies marine mammal strandings. We learned that stranding data can help us learn about the biodiversity of an area, give us basic natural history information about the animals and provide a glimpse of the temporal behavior of some of the animals. In Virginia, Bottlenose Dolphins are only found during part of the year (April through November) and the stranding data help us understand what they are doing during their time here.

Susan also discussed some of the Aquarium’s projects that have focused on marine mammals. Researchers were interested in whether dolphins that get caught in fishing gear are healthy or unhealthy, so they developed a way to measure the health of these entangled animals. The study found that, in many cases, mammals that become entangled are healthy. In another project, Susan and her colleagues studied a new type of stronger, finer fishing line called “Spectra.” Results from the study showed that marine mammals that were entangled in this new fishing line suffered more significant cuts compared to animals that were entangled in traditional monofilament line. Susan has also helped develop a catalog, which allows photo identification of dolphins based on the unique characteristics of their dorsal fins. This catalog helps researchers track individual dolphin movements over time.

After this long day it was a delight to arrive at our hotel, unpack the bus and get some sleep.  We look forward to what Thursday will hold!

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