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Whale of a hug: Drone video shows endangered mammals in apparent embrace

One of the few things rarer than North Atlantic right whales? Capturing a whale ‘hug’ on video. Scientists have done that for what might have been the first time from the air.

This image from a video shot Feb. 28 by wildlife photographer Brian Skerry captured the rarely observed moment of “what appeared to be whales hugging with their flippers, technically described as ‘belly to belly:’ perhaps showing affection and attempts at mating.”
This image from a video shot Feb. 28 by wildlife photographer Brian Skerry captured the rarely observed moment of “what appeared to be whales hugging with their flippers, technically described as ‘belly to belly:’ perhaps showing affection and attempts at mating.”
Brian Skerry / National Geographic via AP

WOODS HOLE, Mass. — Drone video of two critically endangered North Atlantic right whales swimming in Cape Cod Bay shows the animals appearing to embrace one another with their flippers.

Wildlife photographer Brian Skerry and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the New England Aquarium captured the moment on Feb. 28 as the whales interacted.

Woods Hole scientists say such behavior is rarely observed and that it might have been the first time a whale hug was recorded from the air.

“Researchers saw what appeared to be whales hugging with their flippers, technically described as ‘belly to belly:’ perhaps showing affection and attempts at mating,” the research team said.

North Atlantic right whales are some of the planet’s most endangered animals. Their population is estimated at just 360.

The whales are susceptible to ship strikes and entanglements with commercial fishing gear.

Scientists say there is a potential bright spot for their future, though: Over this past winter, the whales gave birth in greater numbers than scientists have seen since 2015.