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Blue Whale Makes Unprecedented Visit Off Eilat's Red Sea Coast

Specimen of the world's largest animal spotted off Israel's Red Sea coast in what is thought to be the first-ever sighting in the area

The blue whale off Eilat
Omri Omessi/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

A blue whale was spotted off Eilat's Red Sea coast on Tuesday, apparently for the first time ever.

Blue whales are the largest animals currently inhabiting the earth and the one sighted on Tuesday is thought to be about 20 meters (66 feet in length), according to Oz Goffman, the director of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center. The blue whale was not seen again on Wednesday, and it may have swum further south into the Red Sea.

Blue whale spotted off Eilat, May 29, 2018.

"It was seen by a fisherman around 11:45 A.M. [Tuesday], and he rushed to report on it. At first, they thought it was a large-finned whale that had already been seen in our region," Goffman explained. Later it was also spotted from other boats. It was also seen under the water, where to the surprise of the experts, it was identified as a blue whale, on its first ever-known visit to the area.

"This is the furthest north that it has ever reached," Goffman said. "In the past, it has been seen near the entrance to the Red Sea."

Researchers have collected a list of seven species of whale, including the killer whale, that have been sighted in the Red Sea, the northern portion of which is the Gulf of Eilat. Now the list will have to be revised. "It looked in good condition," Goffman said. "We hope that it safely returns to where it came from."

The blue whale, which feeds on small crabs among other food, is threatened with extinction in various areas of the world. It can grow to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) in length. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that the world's population of blue whales at between 10,000 and 25,000, roughly a third of their numbers about 100 years ago.