Record number whales spotted off Virginia

Published 9:13 am Friday, March 1, 2013


Food is one of the reasons for more whale sightings. -- Submitted | K. Rayfield

Food is one of the reasons for more whale sightings. — Submitted | K. Rayfield

VIRGINIA BEACH—Plentiful food and a mild winter are making this season for whale watching almost as good as last year.

“Last year was our best ever,” said Capt. Fred “Skip” Feller of Rudee Tours in Virginia Beach.

The viewings take place from the week after Christmas through March.

Humpback and fin whales are the most common, Feller said. They’re usually juveniles ranging from 3 years to 15 years old and measuring 20 feet to 30 feet long.

Menhaden — a type of fish — is the main food they eat and its availability is the chief reason for the numerous sightings, said Feller.

“The mild winters have definitely helped. They’re not going south,” he said, adding the whales go to the New England region for the summer.

Although dolphins are often seen in Virginia Beach during the warmer months, the bottlenose variety were seen as well as three humpbacks during a recent trip, said Joan Barns, public relations manager for the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach. Rudee works with the science center to provide tours.

Feller said there’s really not an average number of sightings per trip and there are no better times during the day to spot whales. Some days one to three might be seen. On one extraordinary day, as many as 20 were spotted.

“From Dec. 27 through Feb. 19, 48 out of 65 completed trips have had large whale sightings and most other trips have spotted dolphins and birds,” said Barns.

The latter have included sea birds such as double-crested cormorants, hooded mergansers, loons, mallards, northern gannets and surf scoters.

Feller has had repeat customers sometimes three times a day. The boat accommodates 150 people. A naturalist is on board to talk about the whales.

“You don’t really get tired of seeing them no matter how many times you go out,” said Feller.

The tours take place 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. on weekends.

To find out more, call 425-3400 or visit