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Record Number Of North Atlantic Right Whales Spotted Off Cape Cod

BOSTON (CBS) - Marine life experts are beckoning people to Cape Cod to take advantage of a spectacular sight from a front row seat! Record numbers of some of the rarest and most endangered whales in the world are feeding just off Provincetown.

"They're the rarest whale in the North Atlantic, so seeing one is exciting. Seeing 112 in a day is exceptional," said Philip Hamilton, a researcher at the New England Aquarium's Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.

Scientists estimate that there are only 524 North Atlantic right whales left, so Sunday's sighting represented about a fifth of the world's population. Early Wednesday, the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) aerial survey team recorded a previously unseen North Atlantic right whale mother/calf pair off Truro. That's thrilling news considering recent birth numbers.

"We have three calves born this year, possibly a fourth just discovered today. That's very low. The average over the past 20 years has been around 17," Hamilton explained.

Seeing this many right whales at once gives researchers an incredible opportunity to gather new information. Hamilton compares it to taking the pulse of the population.

"What we do is photograph their markings and scars on their body to take assessments of how they're doing. Have they been entangled in fishing gear recently? Are they thin? Is their skin healthy?"

It is illegal for people to come within 500 yards of the highly endangered right whale. However, the whales are known to come pretty close to shore when feeding. Hamilton said your best chance to see them for yourself is with some binoculars off Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. Right whales arrive in Cape Cod Bay as early as December, and are expected to remain in the area through early May.

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