Virginia Beach is home to some of Virginia’s most unique and exquisite wildlife, many of which migrate through during the winter months. From tiny oysters that help clean the water to captivating whales that visit for the holidays, this area of the coast is bursting with life. Here are a few of the most charismatic creatures and how you can see them yourself.
Humpback and Fin Whales
Who knew you could see a wild whale right in Virginia? As migratory mammals, humpback and fin whales travel along the Atlantic Coast in the winter when the cold of their polar homes becomes too severe. Virginia Beach’s Chesapeake Bay is one of their favorite places to chill during the winter months as the temperature is just right for them this time of year.
While crowds thin out onshore in the wintertime, they are ramping up below the water’s surface! As the whales settle into their home away from home in Virginia Beach, they are sharing the waters with many other species, including bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, spot minke whales, harbor seals, and critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
How to see them
Winter is the peak season for whale watching in Virginia Beach. The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center offers multiple educational boat tours, including one dedicated to whale watching, that focus on marine life and its conservation. A portion of all ticket sales goes to supporting their education, research, and conservation initiatives. Rudee Tours also offers educational boat tours and guarantees their guests a sighting by offering a second outing for free if no wildlife is spotted on the first ride. If you’re looking to get real close and personal, check out the dolphin kayaking tours that Kayak Nature Tours offer.
A Virginia Beach staple, these oysters attract foodies from all over while also helping to clean its waterways. Working as a natural filter, they feed by pumping water through their gills and trapping bacteria, algae, and other small particles, making them one of the few animals in the world that improve water quality.
They were once coveted for their impressive size and taste by aristocrats and royals, but over-farming had put them near extinction. Thanks to habitat revitalization and conservation efforts led by groups like Lynnhaven River NOW, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Shore Drive Community Coalition, and Pleasure House Oysters, people can come to Virginia Beach and eat like royalty!
How to see them
Properly named, you can find these delectable river cleaners in the Lynnhaven River or on the menu at Virginia Beach’s top restaurants. The best way to see and taste them is going out on one of Pleasure House Oysters tours for their unique ocean-to-table experience. Bring a bottle of wine, see how the oysters are harvested, and slurp up some of the best oysters in the world while waders-deep in the Lynnhaven River.
Migratory Winter Birds
Virginia Beach’s ideal coastal habitat hosts more than 300 species of birds year-round, making it one of the best bird-watching hotspots on the East Coast. This is especially true in the winter and fall when thousands of birds flock to Virginia Beach on their way south during their yearly migration or to stay for the season. Canadian geese, tundra swans, various duck species, and many more feathered friends come from all over to nest and feed in Virginia Beach.
How to see them
Since Virginia Beach has no shortage of bird species, there are many places experienced birders or interested nature lovers can catch a glimpse. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State park offer winter wildlife tours to observe the wintering waterfowl January through March. Blue Pete’s Restaurant also offers a kayak tour that shows off the sights and wildlife of Back Bay before paddling back to the restaurant for an unforgettable cuisine experience.
Other places to hike and view:
- Pleasure House Point Natural Area
- First Landing State Park
- Stumpy Lake Natural Area
- Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area
It’s no secret the city of Virginia Beach takes great pride in the extensive winter wildlife scene. To celebrate it all, they host a month-long Winter Wildlife Festival. All of January you can sign up for a variety of presentations, workshops, exhibits, challenges, and more. Come on out and take in the sights, chirps, and splashes of Virginia Beach’s wildlife.
Cover photo by Shannon McGowan