We’ve loved them ever since we saw them burst onto the scene in those cheesy insurance commercials. And heard their cool underwater vocals. Now it’s your chance to get up close and personal with the whale family’s most beloved member: the humpback.
This winter, Virginia Beach has reported double the sightings of humpback whales over last year. More than 30 have been spotted since late December, as little as 2 miles off the coast. Local marine biologists have been naming the frequent visitors — Woodpecker, Batcave and Literal, among them – who are typically too young to head south to the West Indies for the calving and mating season. Instead, they’ve been arriving from the northern Bay of Fundy (between Maine and Nova Scotia) – and sticking around in larger-than-usual numbers.
Record Whale-Watching Season
The mild weather and more bountiful bait (like herring and sandlance), could explain this year’s larger whale numbers, says Jackie Borth, a research technician with the Virginia Aquarium.
Whatever the reason, it’s turning into a record year.
“This has been our best season,” says Mark Jennings, a tour guide who’s led whale-watching outings for the past 14 years through the Virginia Aquarium and Rudee Tours. Out of 48 whale-watching boat trips this season, all but 3 have seen humpback whales. In some cases, even fin and minke whales have been spotted.
Take a Whale SENSE Tour
The large whale numbers means it could be worth a trip out on the ocean, even if whale sightings aren’t guaranteed. Or you’re prone to seasickness.
On a recent Sunday – after 2 Dramamine and less than an hour out at sea – it happened: I spotted 1 … then 2 whales coming to the water’s surface. That’s not unusual. In recent weeks, other whales, usually in pods of 2, have been putting on a show: lunging, breaching, tail-bobbing and flipper slapping — sometimes right next to the boat. Check out scenes from winter 2012 here.
Looking to see for yourself? Go with a whale-watching tour company that’s affiliated with a NOAA-backed education program called Whale SENSE, says Borth of the Virginia Aquarium. Whale-SENSE-recognized tours agree not to go within 500 yards of a right whale, or 100 yards of humpback whales. When humpback whales get up close, the boat engine is put in neutral to prevent hitting the whales.
Whale watchers, check out boat trip times here.
(Above Photo Credit: Kristin Rayfield with Rudee Tours)