Whale Watching Cruises in North Carolina

The first thing you should know about whale watching cruises in North Carolina is that they do not exist, a characteristic they share with whale watching cruises in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. None of these south eastern states have a whale watching cruise industry, and this holds true as far north as North Carolina. However, as is the case in these other states, there are some opportunities for whale watching, although the options are particularly limited in North Carolina.

Of the south eastern states, the whale watching scene in North Carolina is most comparable to the whale watching scene in South Carolina. Both states are a little too far north to benefit from the right whale calving season, which takes place off the coast of Georgia and Florida. Even in Florida and Georgia, seeing a right whale is extremely difficult, as they are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. However, it is even more difficult in North Carolina because the whales merely pass by the state en route to the more southern waters. (They make an annual trip south from the Gulf of Maine in December and then head north again in March.) So, you can only see right whales during a very brief window, and there are very few right whales to see in the first place. There are obviously other types of whales in the second largest ocean in the world, though, and since North Carolina borders the Atlantic Ocean, a variety of different whale species are periodically spotted off the coast of North Carolina. However, this is not a place where whales are known to congregate or pass through in large numbers. So, there are simply not enough whales for there to be cruises dedicated to whale watching in North Carolina, at least from the existing coastal cities (more on this in a second).

You can, however, take a whale watching cruise out of Virginia Beach, which is near the North Carolina border. (It technically borders North Carolina depending on how you draw the lines of the city.) While Virginia Beach is not a center of whale watching in the way that places like San Diego or the San Juan Islands are, there are some seasonal cruises available designed to catch sight of humpback and fin whales in migration, which is evidently easier to do when you depart from Virginia. This may seem bizarre, but in general there are more whale watching cruises as you move further north, and this simply has to do with the migratory patterns of whales heading south to give birth. (Moving to warmer waters to give birth is a pretty universal whale practice.) Moreover, there probably could be whale watching cruises from North Carolina, but there are basically no cities on the middle to northern part of the North Carolina coast, which would be the best place to launch a whale watching cruise because of the ways whales migrate.

So, there are no whale watching cruises in North Carolina, but it is technically possible to whale watch in the state thanks to the right whale migration and the occasional appearance of other whales off the coast. Moreover, there are whale watching cruises in Virginia Beach, which is near the North Carolina border. Thus, whale watching is possible, but very limited, so it definitely isn’t the best state to be in if you are looking to whale watch.

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