They were looking for whales a mile off the Cape. But they were treated to a rarer sight.

“Snakes on a whale watch.”

Great white sharks have been getting a lot of attention off the Cape Cod coast recently, but the crew and passengers aboard a whale-watch boat were treated to a more unusual sight in the water: a snake.

Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises shared photos last week of the Eastern hog-nosed snake, spotted about a mile out to sea north of Race Point.

“Here’s a first in our 30+ years of whale watching,” the excursion company wrote of seeing the reptile that they estimated was about 4 feet long.

“We were stopped and waiting for a mother and a calf humpback to resurface and I noticed the people on the bow of the boat all looking at something below them in the water,” Joanne Jarzobski, a marine biologist on the whale-watching boat told the Cape Cod Times.

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According to the Cape Cod National Seashore, the snake was once found in abundance along the beaches and coastal plains of the Northeast, but now it’s rare to find the reptile in most places.

Except for the Cape Cod National Seashore, where it remains common, according to the park service.   

“The Eastern hog-nosed snake is the ultimate Cape Cod snake, a species specialized for the sandy habitats that typify the national seashore,” officials wrote.

Scott Buchanan, a herpetologist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, told the Times the snakes are good swimmers. But he said the one spotted on the whale watch likely got disoriented and swam too far from shore or got pulled into a current.

“A hognose might enter water to cool down or disperse to a different area; as far as I know there are no accounts of them actively foraging while swimming,” he said. “But to see it so far out and in salt water is certainly puzzling.”  

Jarzobski told the Times she and the crew discussed trying to save the snake, which was so far away from the shore, but the size of the ship made it too much of a challenge to reach the reptile.