Whale Watching in Virginia Beach

“Whale watching in Virginia Beach?”

The looks from my friends were incredulous as I told them about my experience whale watching a few years ago. Every winter, from December to March, several pods of humpback whales migrate from their summer homes of the coast of Maine and Nova Scotia and spend the winter months feeding in the rich waters where the Chesapeake Bay opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Whale sightings have been plentiful and frequent the past few years but despite this, ย one of Virginia’s greatest winter experiences remains a secret even to many locals. On a clear but chilly January weekend I brought my friends down to the Virginia Aquarium for a winter wildlife boat trip so they could see the whales for themselves.

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The Virginia Aquarium is a popular stop for families and visitors to Virginia Beach year round and we met up at the dock along side the aquarium to start the day’s adventures. Even before leaving the dock we got our first glimpse of wildlife in the form of a bald eagle in the tall coastal pines. The boat pushed off and we started through Rudee Inlet, a small estuary that I’ve become quite familiar with as I’ve spent the past few summers exploring on my paddle board. A rocky jetty denoted the transition from inlet to ocean and with a quick turn north we headed up to the Chesapeake Bay.

Whale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.com
Whale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.comWhale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.com

The boat trip afforded great views of the famous Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the crowds of summer replaced by a few dedicated joggers on the boardwalk. The 50 degree day was mild for January but bundling up in warm layers and thick boots was well advised as it felt a good deal colder out on the ocean. The boat was staffed with knowledgeable volunteers giving information about the humpback whales and other wildlife in the area. Aside from humpback whales both fin and right whales have been spotted. Seabirds are also a common sight, with pelicans, gulls, cormorants and Northern gannets(whose en masse dive hunting look like a waterfall of birds) are frequent visitors to the Virginia coast.

Whale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.comWhale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.comWhale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.com

As the boat neared the Chesapeake Bay, in view of the beaches and lighthouses of Fort Story, we saw our first sign of the animals we had come to see. A spray broke the surface of the water, ย the exhale from the blowhole came just before the telltale hump followed by the tail as this gentle giant returned to the depths. We learned that the tail, or fluke, is unique to each whale and is one of the ways the Aquarium’s marine biologists identify and track whales. We spent the next hour surrounded by humpbacks, with at least four individuals, as they performed their graceful water ballet around the boat. While we didn’t get the money shot of a breaching juvenile mid-air the surfacing of these humpbacks were no less spectacular.

Whale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.comWhale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.com Whale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.comWhale watching in Virginia Beach www.casualtravelist.com

Three hours after we left we returned to the dock there was a final sighting of the bald eagle who had bid us bon voyage. My friends, with windswept hair and chilled fingers were beaming with smiles ear to ear, now witness to what may be the best secret in Virginia Beach.

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23 Comments on “Whale Watching in Virginia Beach

  1. I’ve never considered going whale watching even though it’s a popular activity in Mexico. Thanks for sharing your experience ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I had no idea you could whale watch from Virginia Beach but now I’m adding it to my travel list. I watched a group of humpbacks feeding off the Massachusetts coast once and it was incredible. The expert called it “vertical lunge feeding” and they would breech straight up half their length before slamming their jaws shut on fish. Whales are such beautiful creatures. Thanks for the great tips!

  3. Reminds me of a whale-watching excursion I took in San Diego. Whales are such majestic creatures, and it was magnifient to actually see one up close. We also got to see lots and lots of dolphins, as they seem to love playing in and jumping over the wake of the boat. Your photos are beautiful, by the way, and I’m glad you got to enjoy a great whale-watching excursion.
    Tami recently posted…Thailand: Discovering PhuketMy Profile

  4. So fun! We love whale watching. I did’t realize you could do it in Virginia Beach! We were in Virginia Beach in May last year, so it sounds like we just missed the season. Will have to head back and give it a go sometime!

  5. Such an amazing experience, seeing whales in their natural habitat. Living in British Columbia, this happens from time to time as well. You certainly enjoyed perfect weather for your day out in Virginia Beach!

  6. I didn’t realize that there was such amazing whale watching in Virginia Beach – it is such a wonderful experience. I have seen humpbacks in Hawaii, but that is it.

  7. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest I’m always up for a whale watching cruise. I’d never have thought to do it in Virginia so thanks for the tip!

  8. This is indeed a memorable experience and it brought me memories of my own Dolphin watching. I am thrilled just reading “the exhale from the blowhole” what an experience it must be. Looks like a well organised tour too.

  9. Virginia Beach isn’t the first spot that comes to my mind for whale watching either! I’m so impressed you’ve managed to remember so much detail from your trip from years ago, I have the memory of a goldfish. Lovely photos too, such majestic animals

  10. So my extended family lives in Northern Virginia and I often visit for holidays and weddings and such. But the other day one of my friends asked me if I had ever been “down” to Virginia Beach and I realized I hadn’t yet. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to its just Virginia is a family event. However, I told my cousins that the next time I come I want to swing down there and when I tell them About Whales…they will flip! Great pics by the way! Was it expensive?
    Eric || The Bucket List Project recently posted…2017 Bucket List Hopes and GoalsMy Profile

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