Whale Watching in Virginia Beach

In Virginia Beach, you can live the life all year long – not just in the summer months. This winter, Virginia Beach has seen the return of some its favorite – and largest – guests, whales. While humpback whale sightings are common for the area, the 2011/2012 winter season brought impressive numbers of humpback sightings, as well as glimpses of several fin and minke whales. This year’s mild temperatures and plentiful food may be enticing the old friends back to the Virginia Beach coast for yet another busy winter of whale activity.

The Virginia Aquarium’s Winter Wildlife Boat Trips kicked off on December 27 and will continue through early March. These gentle giants wow visitors with behaviors including breaching, spyhopping (when a whale rises and holds position partially out of the water) and lobtailing (when a whale lifts its flukes out of the water). On a few boat trips so far this season, humpback whales were close enough to the boat for guests to smell their “whale breath,” an odor that is said to be quite distinct! On a few others, the creatures have demonstrated their feeding behaviors including bubble netting (when a whale uses its bubbles to corral fish), one of the more rare whale talents to be observed.

During the Winter Wildlife Boat Trips, a trained Virginia Aquarium Educator narrates the tour, which departs from Rudee Inlet and enters the Atlantic Ocean, traveling north along the resort area and its famed boardwalk up to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition to whales, guests on the trips usually see brown pelicans, northern gannets, double-crested cormorants and other sea birds, all feeding on schools of fish.

Humpback whales have long been passing by the shores of Virginia Beach, due to the food-rich mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and warmer Atlantic Ocean waters. Humpbacks can weigh up to 40 tons and range up to 52 feet long. In addition to humpback whales, fin whales, another member of the Rorqual family, also migrate along the Virginia Beach coast. Fin whales, which are the second largest animal on the planet after the blue whale, are known as the “greyhounds of the sea” because they can reach speeds of up to 23 mph. These massive marine animals can measure up to 79 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons, which is almost the weight of two fully loaded 18-wheelers.

Tours are $28 for adults and $24 for children ages 4-11. For tour times or more information, visit www.VirginiaAquarium.com. For those interested in combining whale-watching with a Virginia Beach getaway, the Winter Wildlife Boat Trip vacation package includes three days/two nights hotel accommodations, tickets for a Winter Wildlife Boat Trip, admission to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and passes to a movie at the Aquarium’s 3D IMAX® Theater.

After the boat tour, be sure to check out the Virginia Beach Town Center, taste your first oyster, kayak calm bays or stroll along the iconic 3-mile boardwalk. Hike through state parks or savor local dishes during the Boardwalk & Beyond Food Tour. Discover Virginia Beach’s fascinating marine life indoors at the Virginia Aquarium or simply relax to the tranquil sounds of the ocean.

With the region’s mild year-round climate, Virginia Beach is a popular getaway every season of the year. The resort city is centrally located on the East Coast in the southeastern corner of Virginia, within easy fly-drive access of two-thirds of the U.S. population. It is a mere 20 minutes from Norfolk International Airport, which hosts more than 150 flights daily, and 45 minutes from Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. For visitors driving to Virginia Beach, the resort city is 2 hours from Richmond, Va., 4 hours away from Washington, D.C. and 7 hours from New York City. It also is accessible from the world-famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 17-mile span connecting U.S. Route 17 on Virginia’s Eastern Shore with Virginia Beach.