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Two groups of very lucky passengers on trips with Cape Ann Whale Watch were treated to an extremely rare sight on the 4th of July and again on Monday: A blue whale, the largest animal on earth, swimming in the waters off Massachusetts.

“I just couldn’t believe I was in its presence,” says Christina McMahon Foley, educational coordinator and senior naturalist for the Gloucester-based whale watch company. “It’s something I won’t forget – it was very special.”

The day of the first sighting the captain had heard rumors that a blue whale was in the area and told McMahon Foley they were going to go look for it. Still, she was stunned to spot a blow – the characteristic exhalation of a whale – that shot up higher than the two-story vessel.

“I am thinking to myself, I have to talk in the microphone and I don’t know if I can because my insides were just going crazy,” McMahon Foley says.

The watchers soon saw the whale’s long body swimming under the water, diving, and resurfacing to breathe at four-minute intervals. They were able to continue viewing the animal for 30 minutes. Living up to its name, the whale was a striking, speckled blue color, McMahon Foley says, and she estimates it was roughly 100 feet long – slightly shorter than the whale watching vessel Hurricane II.

“I’ve struggled to find the words to describe how enormous it is,” she says.

A second Cape Ann Whale Watch tour encountered the blue whale again on Monday. Though blue whales are usually further north at this time of year, they are likely lingering in the area to feed on krill, a tiny marine crustacean that has been unusually plentiful in local waters this summer.

Blue whales are the largest animals ever to live on our planet. In the Antarctic region they can reach lengths of up to 110 feet (roughly the length of three school buses) and weights of up to 330,000 pounds (more than 20 elephants). In the North Atlantic they are somewhat smaller: about 90 feet long and over 100,000 pounds. They are found in all of the world’s oceans, but are endangered and rarely seen.