Families gathered on the beach near Grande Dunes for a sight that many of them never thought they’d see — a pod of whales moving south along the coast.
“My son spotted one of the blows from the fourth floor over there at the condo and we didn’t believe him at first and then we all watched and we saw it,” Mark Davis, who is visiting the area from Georgia, said. “I didn’t expect to see a whale this far south, not at all. God’s creation is amazing. My wife actually said this morning she was praying we’d see something special.”
While whales are not often spotted off the Myrtle Beach coast, humpback and right whales move through the area about twice a year, Rob Young, a professor of marine science at Coastal Carolina University, said. Within the past few days a number of sightings have been reported.
Humpback whales, which are more commonly in the area, migrate to the Caribbean during the winter months to bread and give birth. During the summer they migrate back north to feed off the New England and Canadian coasts.
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“It’s not uncommon,” Young said. “We typically get some reports most years of some whales coming in close to shore and it’s usually humpback and right, and ones I’ve been getting reports of is humpbacks.”
However, Young said that the whales stay offshore because “we’re a bit of a cove here, but we have a few that come in most years.”
William McLellan, a research biologist for the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, said that right whales have recently been named an endangered species, with less than 450 left. This year, there have been 17 confirmed deaths of right whales.
“They’ve had a terrible year, so we’re just waiting to see how many right whales show up,” McLellan said. “Humpback whales were taken off the endangered species list last year and we are regularly seeing them off of South Carolina.”