Each winter, from late December until mid-March, majestic humpback whales follow a migration route, originating from the Bay of Fundy, which brings these magnificent oceanic mammals to the coastal waters near the shores of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Known for their complex and lengthy whale songs, graceful athleticism, unusual bubble net feeding techniques, and immense size, humpback whales are among the most fascinating and thrilling whales to observe.
Another species that migrates past Virginia Beach, the fin whale, is second in size only to the blue whale, making it the second largest animal on earth. Long and streamlined, fin whales are known for their great speed capabilities and powerful, low-pitched sounds. Both the humpback whale and the fin whale are listed as endangered.
The number of annual migratory whales in the Atlantic waters near Virginia Beach is being studied through ongoing research, including periodic aerial surveys. Additional research is required before scientists will be able to provide an accurate estimate of the number of whales that migrate past Virginia Beach annually.
Virginia Aquarium Winter Wildlife Boat Trips
Scheduled Days: Late December - Late March
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, located in Virginia Beach, offers education-based Winter Wildlife Boat Trips, which explores an array of interesting winter wildlife visitors and residents in the Virginia Beach area. During these two-hour trips, knowledgeable Virginia Aquarium educators help spot harbor seals, harbor porpoises, and whales. In the sky, guests may see aerial shows of nature as brown pelicans, northern gannets, double-crested cormorants, and other sea birds soar, dive into the water and feed on schooling fish.
Onboard educators teach about the wildlife, including discussions about the whales, their annual migrations and current protection efforts for these wondrous and endangered creatures. Other discussions explore the differences between harbor porpoises and bottlenose dolphins. Artifacts and time for questions add to the experience.
The boat trips take place on a 65-foot catamaran, Rudee Whaler, which features a heated cabin and outdoor seating on upper and lower decks. Hot beverages may be enjoyed along the way. Boat trips leave from the Virginia Beach Fishing Center at Rudee Inlet, located at 200 Winston Salem Avenue, Virginia Beach. Charter trips are available upon request. Also, note that wildlife sightings cannot be guaranteed.
What are the Chances of Seeing Whales?
Because the migrating whales move freely in their natural ocean habitat, the likelihood of seeing whales during a winter visit to Virginia Beach varies from year to year, ranging from excellent to slight. In the past, some years have yielded a banner number of sightings with as much as a 90 percent success rate, while in other years the whales have been far more elusive.
Tips for Enjoying a Winter Wildlife Boat Trip
- Before making your final plans, confirm your boat trip details. In some cases, boat trips may be canceled because of weather conditions which may affect safe boating.
- Wear warm clothing, including waterproof jackets in case of rain, hats, gloves, and scarves. Dress in layers so you can make adjustments as necessary for a variety of conditions. Remember that winter weather conditions along the coast are frequently windy with slightly colder temperatures out on the water.
- Wear non-skid shoes and warm socks.
- Remember to pack your camera and binoculars.
- Take a pair of sunglasses in case you have a bright, sunny winter day.
- Seek medical advice before planning your trip if you are prone to sea sickness.
- Make the most out of this interesting adventure, even if you do not manage to see everything that you had hoped to see.
Additional Information and Reservations
- For additional information and to make reservations, visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center website at virginiaaquarium.com and click on Educational Adventures, or call 757-385-FISH (3474).