PROVINCETOWN (CBS) – Researchers say they’re encouraged by sightings of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay.

The Center for Coastal Studies said that during aerial surveillance on Tuesday it only took them a few hours to spot 14 of the rare whales in the bay. The research vessel Ibis found at least one more whale.

right whales 3401 tux and 1706 ccs image2c noaa permit 19315 1 Rare Right Whales Back In Cape Cod Bay

Right whales #3725, an adult male named Tux, and #1706, an adult female born in 1987. CCS image, NOAA permit #19315-1

It’s estimated there are only about 434 North Atlantic right whales in existence.

“This is a terrific start to the season,” Right Whale Ecology program director Charles “Stormy” Mayo said in a statement. “Last year we identified 251 individuals in the Bay between December and May, so we’re excited to see how this year progresses.”

right whale flukes ccs image2c noaa permit 19315 1 Rare Right Whales Back In Cape Cod Bay

Right whale flukes. CCS image, NOAA permit #19315-1

Last year a record number of right whales were seen off Cape Cod. But 17 were found dead compared to only five new recorded births, and experts warn the whales could become extinct by the middle of the century if the trend continues.

The rare whales come to Cape Cod Bay to feed every winter.

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