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Thus far an epic adventure!

August 15, 2011

I didn’t blog last night as I was exhausted after a long day of extended travel, interspersed with fun activities such as lunch on Jennette’s Pier and a talk by Susan Barco at the Virginia Aquarium. (Lesson from Susan’s talk: Don’t use Spectra for any of your fishing needs; this stuff is horrible for the environment and the animals that live in it!)  Learned a lot of interesting information about Bottlenose Dolphin phylogeny, the use of dolphin photo ID data and why marine mammal stranding work is so important beyond just trying to save the stranded animal. Yesterday we also had our fill of cookies: homemade cookies during the bus trip, cookies at  lunch, cookies at dinner and, because we discussed the cookie onslaught on the bus ride to the hotel,  warm cookies at check-in.  I have no will power and of course I ate them. (I mean, how can one refuse a warm cookie with chocolate?!).

Quote of the day, “Who wants some tire?” After our tire blew out near Zebulon yesterday some of us saved pieces of it for our journal!

Today was amazing.  A behind the scenes tour at the Virginia Aquarium followed by a Harbor Seal encounter.  Our group got to meet (and pet!) Peter, one of the Aquarium’s seals, who diligently touched the white target while our pictures were taken.  Then to answer our question if he painted, his trainers let him paint for us.  Peter is known for sticking to the canvas and making perfectly straight vertical lines — awesome!  We toured the rest of the Aquarium in front of the scenes and I loved how each room was a theme that was able to transport you into a forest, or a tent or a submarine….I’m not sure what my favorite exhibit was, but I did love the sea turtle nursery!

After the aquarium walk-about we had lunch. Yes, there were cookies, but we saved them for the seal trainers. The trainers complained about people throwing food to the seals (thankfully the seals are very picky and won’t eat anything people throw into the tank) and that the food is always soggy (and inedible by humans) by the time it is discovered.  After lunch we went out on our dolphin quest.  I think we saw at least 15 dolphins, including a calf!  At some point we realized that we all kept squealing like 4-year-olds every time we saw one, but we didn’t care.  It’s nice to be surrounded by fellow marine maniacs!

After the satisfying dolphin tour (although the wild dolphins we saw didn’t jump, pause and smile before landing back in the water), we went to the Marine Mammal Stranding building, which is located out in the middle of nowhere (we suspect due to the smells) for a necropsy.  The stranding team had attempted to rescue a female Pygmy Sperm Whale the night before but sadly had to euthanize her because she was so badly injured. The team would like to have brought the female’s calf, which had been seen earlier near its mother, back to the facility, but there was no sign of the youngster. Hopefully the calf is safe.  As soon as the whale was brought back to the center they started the necropsy.  Since that was at 3am and we didn’t arrive till 4 pm or so we missed that one. But they had thawed a Harbor Porpoise for us to watch and “help” with.  By help I mean we got to ask questions and pass pieces around.  Very cool.  I haven’t seen a marine mammal necropsy since my junior year at UNCW and it was thrilling to re-learn some facts as well as learn new ones….such as porpoises have 3 stomachs and their kidney is actually a bunch of little kidneys stuck all together.

Dinner was fantastic and some of us decided to walk the mile or so back so we could see some of the street fair going on.  If you want to experience Jersey Shore in the south go to Virginia Beach.

Time for bed as we have another long drive tomorrow — luckily Natalie bought a coloring book for us at the gift shop so we have another craft!

Quote of the day, “I’ll go find you an ovary.” (said during the necropsy)

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