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Two endangered North Atlantic right whales spotted off the coast of New Hampshire

Andy (Catalog #2027) was spotted off of the coast of Hampton Beach in Hampton, N.H., on Friday.New England Aquarium, taken under NMFS/NOAA permit #18786

Two endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted off the coast of two shorelines in New Hampshire on Friday, the New England Aquarium wrote in a Facebook post.

“It’s, for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a right whale, and to see it right off your coast was pretty spectacular,” said Heather Pettis, a research scientist in the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, in a telephone interview Monday. “For me, it was such a fun opportunity to share what I know about right whales.”

The two whales, Aphrodite and Andy, were spotted separately in North Hampton and Hampton Pettis said, and were both within a mile of the shoreline. Aphrodite is a 35-year-old female who has given birth to six calves, and Andy is a 32-year-old male, the aquarium said.

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When someone observed what they believed to be a whale in the ocean in North Hampton at the state beach , they called the Seacoast Science Center’s Marine Mammal Rescue Hotline to report the sighting, said Ashley Stokes, director of the center’s Marine Mammal Rescue Program. The caller said the whale had a v-shaped blow, which is typically an indicator of the North Atlantic right whale.

“Sure enough, when we got out there and we were able to see it, we did notice that it was in fact [an] endangered right whale, so certainly a unique sighting for us,” said Stokes, in a telephone interview. The whale that was spotted was Aphrodite.

Pettis learned about the sighting through an e-mail and raced to North Hampton to see the right whale with her camera, she said. Even from a couple hundred yards away, she could tell it was a North Atlantic right whale based on its behavior.

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As she was photographing the first whale, she heard of another potential sighting near Hampton Beach and got on a boat with NOAA Fisheries Service and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, she said. First, Pettis said, they went to North Hampton, where she recognized Aphrodite immediately.

Aphrodite is a 35-year-old female and notably has six calves.New England Aquarium, taken under NMFS/NOAA permit #18786

“She’s a really well-known whale,” said Pettis. “She’s had six calves, so she’s a super important individual in the population, so that was exciting to see her.”

The boat then went south to Hampton Beach to confirm the other sighting, where she saw the other whale skim-feeding and “lazily swimming through the water,” she said. She later confirmed that the second whale was Andy by referencing the North Atlantic right whale consortium identification databases.

Both whales were identified with their callosity patterns that are documented in that database, Pettis said.

Pettis said that it’s “out of the ordinary” to see the species in New Hampshire. It’s common to see right whales during wintertime in Massachusetts in places like Cape Cod Bay, and there have also been periodic sightings along the coast, she added.

Last week, Pettis said, there were sightings in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nahant, and Swampscott.

Researchers have estimated there are only 336 North Atlantic right whales left. The species is protected under law in the United States, and it’s illegal to approach or be within 500 of a right whale without a federal research permit, the aquarium said.

Pettis said she hopes that by seeing the species, people are inspired to better appreciate the ocean and its creatures.

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“I think this New Hampshire sighting gave people an opportunity to connect with a species that is so endangered,” said Pettis. “I hope it inspires people to think about ways in which they can protect not just right whales, but the oceans and be good stewards of the oceans”


Matt Yan can be reached at matt.yan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12.