One of the rarest whales in the world has been spotted off the coast of South Carolina for the first time in three years.
An endangered North Atlantic right whale nicknamed Chiminea was seen earlier this month swimming near Folly Beach, not far from Charleston:
— Kate Redman (@DolphinSeeker30) January 17, 2016
It was the first confirmed sighting of a right whale off South Carolina in three years, according to the Post and Courier newspaper.
Right whales reach lengths of up to 55 feet, which is longer than a school bus, and weigh as much as 140,000 pounds, which is nearly the weight of an empty space shuttle.
They got their name because they were slow, stayed close to land and floated after being killed due to high levels of valuable blubber — making them the “right” whale to hunt, according to the World Wide Fund For Nature.
Centuries of hunting brought them to the brink of extinction, with a population of just 263 whales in 1996, according to the IUCN Red List.
Since then, the whales have started to make a comeback, with 526 individuals photographed in 2014, according to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.
That’s believed to represent most, if not all, of the whales left.
As calving season in their breeding grounds off the Georgia coast gets under way this year, there has already been some good news:
More calves have since been spotted, bringing the total to six so far, according to the New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Team.
While North Atlantic right whales are no longer hunted, they still face manmade threats. Since they live in the busy waters off the East Coast, they routinely get hit by boats, or get caught in fishing ropes and netting.
Some 83 percent of the whales have scars from having been caught in fishing gear, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Inwater Research Group has more about the North Atlantic right whale here.