A blue whale has been spotted off the coast of Sydney, Australia for possibly only the third time in almost 100 years, say experts.
The ocean giant was estimated to be more than 25 metres (82ft) in length and to weigh more than 100 tonnes (100,000kg).
It was the first-ever verified sighting off Sydney’s coast when it was pictured swimming near Maroubra, a beachside suburb on the country’s south-east coast, last month.
The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said it was an “extremely rare” sighting as blue whales – the largest animals on Earth – are not usually seen so close to the shore.
NPWS Project Officer Andrew Marshall said: “The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet yet despite its size it could have easily slipped by Sydney’s coast unnoticed.
“Blue whales are largely ‘invisible’ even to the most avid whale watchers and researchers as the creature is very rarely seen around the world.
“They are not often seen because they tend to live very far out to sea, their populations are widely dispersed and we have very limited data on its migration and critical habitat.
“We have unofficial records of blue whales near Sydney from observers at Cape Solander in 2002 and 2013 but this recent sighting is the first verified record of this species off our coast.”
A photographer was able to take photos and record video of the whale as it swam close to the coast.
The photographer, known as seansperception on Instagram, wrote: “Well where do I start; I’m speechless but could blurt out a million things at the same time.
“Yesterday watching a lot of humpbacks travel south in my usual spot at Maroubra, one of the great wonders of the magical ocean appeared in front of me.
“A blue whale – the largest living animal on planet Earth.
“Although so large they are incredibly hard to ever see especially on the east coast on Australia.
“To put their size into perspective; they grow to around 30 metres, their tongue weighs the same as an elephant and their heart is the size of a car!
“Completely mesmerised & feel like I’ve hit the Jackpot.”
A spokesperson for the NPWS said: “Unlike the humpback whale which is showing signs of an annual population recovery of around 10-11 per cent, the blue whale population in NSW’s waters remains elusive.”
Mr Marshall added: “That’s why opportunistic sightings like this one are so incredibly valuable.
“They improve our understanding of where these species live and suggest if there are measures we need to consider to try to protect them.”
A rarely seen beaked whale was spotted on the Central Coast in July.