After many hours scouring Cape Cod Bay and a few false alarms, those aboard the Research Vessel Shearwater on a bright April day make their first sighting: three North Atlantic right whales, including a rare mother-calf pair.

The captain cuts the engines and a trio of marine biologists spring into action, rapidly snapping photos and noting markings that can be used to identify individual animals and track injuries — a vital part of conservation efforts for a species believed to have 336 members.

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