Several people have reported rare sightings of North Atlantic Right Whales this month along the New England coastline from Provincetown to Portsmouth.
"It is pretty rare to see them that close to shore," Heather Pettis of the New England Aquarium said.
With its bristle-like baleen plates and distinctive callosities decorating its head to its massive size and characteristic tail flukes, the North Atlantic Right Whale has been entertaining New Englanders this spring with some shoreline shows.
"Sure enough, there was a right whale skim feeding right off of Route 1A," Pettis said. "This time of year whales sort of leave Cape Cod Bay, where they've been feeding over the winter. They disperse and we have these opportunistic sightings pop up."
The critically endangered species has been spotted skim feeding or just swimming a few hundred yards off shore from the beaches of North Hampton, New Hampshire, to the choppy waters of Nahant Bay.
"Most people will never see them in their lifetime," said David Morin of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "I don't recall ever having a North Atlantic Right Whale right off the New Hampshire coastline so close."
Pettis, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium who catalogues these whale sightings, said the reports are increasingly unusual in part because there are so few of them left in the ocean.
"The most recent estimate is 336, so fewer than 350 North Atlantic Right Whales exist in the world," Pettis said.
Hunting the protected mammals is illegal. Vessels strikes and entanglements are now their biggest predators.
"It's serious enough that basically North Atlantic Right Whales don't die from old age," Morin said.
Both Morin and Pettis emphasized that without a permit, it is illegal to get within 500 yards of North Atlantic Right Whales.