Beach-goers in the resort city of Eilat were treated to a rare sight this week when a 20-meter (65-foot) blue whale was seen off the Red Sea coast.
A team of marine biologists working on an unrelated project in the Gulf of Eilat on Tuesday took underwater photos and videos of the massive mammal spotted about 150 meters from shore.
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said the sighting was especially rare because the whale was so far from its usual habitat in the far northern Atlantic or in the southern hemisphere.
“This is a very exciting observation as whales sometimes travel great distances and occasionally increase their range of migration for various reasons: availability of food, damage to other habitats, climate change and other causes,” the Authority explained in a Facebook post.
The post noted that blue whales are not aggressive toward humans, and called on swimmers and sailors to keep their distance from the animal.
In just one day, pictures and videos of the rare whale sighting have been shared thousands of times on social media.
The blue whale is the world’s largest mammal, and can reach up to 30 meters (98 feet) in length. The species was almost hunted to extinction in the first half of the 20th century, but conservation efforts have helped return some blue whale populations back to their pre-hunting numbers.