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Patrick Clarke got up early Sunday morning to capture footage of the sunrise off Provincetown. But he ended up filming something even more breathtaking instead.

Shortly after launching his drone into the sky and sending it hovering over the ocean, Clarke noticed something on the screen that shows what the drone is filming: It was a North Atlantic right whale.

“All of the sudden I see this massive whale on the feed on my phone. I thought, ‘This is crazy,’” said Clarke, owner of Cape Clasp, a company that makes bracelets and other products. “My heart was racing. I was like, ‘I really can’t believe I'm getting this footage right now.’”

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The sighting was particularly exciting because of how rare the marine mammals have become. North Atlantic right whales are considered one of the world’s most-endangered species. It’s estimated that there are only 411 alive today, the Globe has previously reported.

On Sunday, Clarke shared the video to social media. By Monday morning, the one-minute clip had been viewed roughly 20,000 times on Instagram and more than 33,000 times on Facebook.

The video shows the whale slowly swimming through the blue-green waters not far from Provincetown’s Race Point Beach.

As the whale moves through the ocean, it rolls to one side — its pectoral fin briefly cutting through the waves — to reveal its white underbelly. It then rights itself and uses its large flukes to propel itself forward and continue on its journey.

“[The ocean] was really dark at first, and then the whale found a sandbar and all of the sudden it was super clear,” said Clarke. “And then he did that roll. ... It really was just a chance encounter, I feel very blessed that it happened.”

Although rare, right whales are known to frequent the waters off Cape Cod this time of year.

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As they travel through the Atlantic, however, they often face perilous obstacles, including run-ins with ships and lobster-line entanglement. The whales were placed on the endangered species list in the 1970s, a designation that still exists today.

In 2017 and 2018 alone, 21 right whale deaths were confirmed and documented, according to the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, which actively monitors the animals.

To avoid collisions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration frequently issues warnings asking mariners to be vigilant, and to slow down, in areas where the whales have been spotted.

A NOAA official on Monday confirmed that the video posted by Clarke was “indeed a right whale.”

“Right whales are returning to our waters to feed and mate,” Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said in a statement. “They are in northern waters in spring, summer, and fall.”

She said roughly 160 right whales — or 40 percent of the population — were spotted in Cape Cod Bay Sunday.

Goebel reminded drone operators to abide by the same approach rules as everyone else, and keep a distance of 1,500 feet from the ocean creatures.

Clarke admitted that his drone may have been too close to the right whale Sunday, but said the encounter was completely unexpected. He said he flew away quickly, so he wouldn’t disturb the animal.

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“I was trying to be respectful of the creature and its space,” said Clarke, who zoomed in on the whale when editing the video. “But I also wanted to capture a beautiful moment.”

The Center for Coastal Studies wrote on Facebook Sunday that multiple whales could be seen off Provincetown Sunday.

“Hey right whales visible from shore south of race point beach,” the organization alerted followers. “Between the parking lot and the light house!!!”

Officials from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy shared the whale video on its Facebook page, calling it “absolutely beautiful.”

“These animals are extremely rare,” the conservancy wrote. “It’s truly a privilege to be exposed to such diverse marine and terrestrial wildlife on ‘Wild’ Cape Cod.”

Members of the nonprofit group, which has been tagging and tracking the great white shark population off Cape Cod for the past five years, weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the mesmerizing video.

Sunday’s sighting came as many people spent time outdoors enjoying one of the first spring-like days.

Those who watched and commented on the original video called the scene “crazy beautiful,” or “really awesome.”

While Clarke said it was an exciting personal moment, he hopes the footage spreads awareness about the importance of saving the diminished whale population.

“I was excited to post the video, and the reaction was awesome to watch, too,” he said. “It definitely got a ton of attention yesterday, and I’m glad that we could bring attention to such an important issue.”

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Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.