It’s the most wonderful time of the year off the coast of Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Not only does December mark the beginning of great white shark season, but it’s also the time of the year when the endangered North Atlantic right whale is occasionally spotted gliding through Lowcountry waters.
On Friday, South Carolina’s Great White Shark Whisperer saw a spectacular sight: a 50-foot North Atlantic right whale and its baby calf, swimming slowly about four miles off the coast of Hilton Head Island.
Chip Michalove, charter captain of Outcast Sport Fishing, spotted the two massive whales while he was taking a few customers fishing for redfish Friday afternoon.
We say massive because baby calfs are massive. Michalove said this one was about 15-foot-long, while its mother is about 100,000 pounds.
Michalove told FITNews that the mother’s head was about the size of a boat.
Michalove said they heard “explosions” in the distance while fishing on Friday and weren’t sure what they were.
When the fishing crew flew Michalove’s drone up in the air, they saw a stunning sight — a North Atlantic right whale and its baby, peacefully drifting through the sparking sea.
Michalove said that he usually sees a couple of the rare whales every December.
“The strange part is, usually when we see right whales, they’re slowly making way to the south,” Michalove said. “These two stayed in the area all day.”
Michalove said they were within eyesight all day, and never got within a dangerous distance from the boat.
Yes, you read that right. The size of a BOAT.
“I always keep a consistent eye on them. My biggest fear is having them swim under the boat,” Michalove said. “About 15 or 20 years ago, one sunk a boat about 13 miles off Hilton Head.”
Michalove said you can see the whales from about a half-mile away, because they’re so giant.
Michalove, who has received nationwide attention for hooking and releasing more than 30 great white sharks for scientific research, said he has seen right whales in the past, but this was the first time he saw a calf and mother swimming together.
He said he spoke to experts who reviewed his video and said this particular whale has been spotted off the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada years prior.
“Every winter, many right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to the warm coastal waters off the southern United States,” the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute officials said on Facebook.
The giant whales are born weighing about 3,000 pounds and around 14-feet long.
The North Atlantic right whale is “among the rarest of all large whale species and, indeed, of all marine mammal species,” according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
In fact, a 2020 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study reported there were around 366 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.
Wild, right? Less than 400 left — in the world.
Luckily, there is some hope, considering this is the third right whale calf to be spotted in the southeast this week.
“Uplifting news for this fragile species especially during the first week of December,” Melanie White North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation project manager, said to USA TODAY earlier this week, before Michalove spotted the calf off Hilton Head.
In 2018, a marine ecologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told The Guardian that right whales could be extinct by 2040, because there are so few females left.
Right whales got their name because they are slow moving and float after they are killed, making them “the right whale” to hunt, hence why they are endangered. They can grow up to 52 feet long and weigh up to 140,000 pounds, or 70 tons, according to NOAA. That’s larger than a typical semi-truck.
They can eat between 2,200 and 5,500 pounds of food in a day, and its head is about a third the size of its body.
Michalove said it’s important to always be on the lookout for them this time of the year and be careful traveling at night.
“It’s easy to see them in the day, but not at night,” Michalove said.
Those lucky enough to encounter a right whale between North Carolina and Florida may report the location by calling 877-WHALE-HELP, contacting the U.S. Coast Guard via channel 16 or logging the sighting via the WhaleAlert iPhone/iPad app.
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