Like thousands of other summer visitors, “Moe” — a bottlenose dolphin — loved the Outer Banks. He could often be seen swimming and feeding with friends and family in Roanoke Sound.
In search of warmer waters, Moe typically migrated south to spend winters hanging around the shores of Beaufort near Morehead City searching for more food and fun like surfing swells.
Moe was a favorite of the small group of researchers who track these magnificent warm-blooded, marine mammals along the Outer Banks, and down south in Beaufort.
Unfortunately, Moe stranded and died on Bird Shoal in Beaufort on March 27, 2016. At that time, the mature bottlenose dolphin was nearly nine-foot-long and weighed 416 pounds. Moe was recovered by the N.C. Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Since then, a lot of hard work and coordination between organizations has resulted in a new exhibit at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.
Moe is the star of the show.
His re-articulated skeleton hangs in a central location inside the pier house. The public is invited to an unveiling ceremony at the pier to celebrate this neat educational display at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24.
Jessica Taylor, executive director of the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, says Moe’s unique story makes the exhibit interesting on different levels.
“This is a dolphin we knew of in North Carolina for nearly 24 years,” she says. “He frequently visited the Outer Banks.”
Taylor explained that her research team routinely cruises Roanoke Sound when wind, weather and funding allows — mainly spring through fall. On these survey trips, she and her volunteers record data on how many dolphins they see and where they’re located.
Perhaps the most valuable thing they collect are photographs of the dorsal fins. This “photo-id” process as it’s known, helps the researchers keep up with who’s who.
When she launched Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research in 2008, Moe was listed as the No. 1 entry in the dolphin catalogue, she says. Now there are more than 900.
“He was a pretty consistent visitor,” Taylor says.
Now, Moe has a permanent home at Jennette’s Pier, thanks to a lot of different people and groups.
Curator of Natural Science Keith Rittmaster, and assistant Josh Summers of the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, performed all of the work on the skeleton after Moe had an animal autopsy, known as a necropsy.
The necropsy was performed by scientists from the N.C. State Center for Marine Science and Technology, or simply CMAST, and Duke Marine Lab.
Rittmaster oversaw the burial of Moe, as well as the eventual recovery of the bones a year and half later. He was assisted by volunteers and others, including Taylor.
“I went down to Beaufort when they exhumed him,” she says of Moe. “They have a graveyard” where other animals planned for future skeletal outreach displays are buried too.
After that, it took months of cleaning, sealing, and gluing the bones together in a process known as re-articulation. Transparent plastic panels are used to hold the flipper bones, which look much like human hands.
Funding from the N. C. Aquarium Society paid for materials and such for the lengthy project. Additional funding for the project came in a grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation.
On the graphic panels accompanying Moe’s skeleton, one panel gives credit to Rick Mallon-Day, who first recorded sighting Moe in Outer Banks in 1997.
Over the years, Moe was known to hang around with another dolphin, Bud, and they were often seen together swimming and fishing the days away.
If you locate a stranded marine mammal on the beach or soundside from Nags Head north to the Virginia line, call the OBX Marine Mammal Stranding Network at (252) 455-9654.
For animals found from Coquina south to Ocracoke, call the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Stranding Response team at (252) 216-6892.