As is the case with the other states located on the southern end of the East Coast, there are no whale watching cruises in South Carolina. There simply aren’t enough whales in this area to support an industry for whale watching cruises, in stark contrast to the situation along essentially all of the Pacific Coast. However, there are still whale watching opportunities in South Caroline from the shore thanks to the right whale migration, and there are also cruises that focus on seeing other forms of marine life. Thus, you can whale watch in South Carolina, as well as take a cruise to see marine animals, but you can’t take a cruise to see whales specifically. Below we outline the alternatives.
The whale watching in South Carolina is almost exactly like the whale watching in Florida and Georgia. In all three states, there are “nature tours” or “eco tours,” as they are sometimes called, and almost all of these focus on seeing dolphins. There are several such cruises in South Carolina along the coast in places like Murrells Inlet and Hilton Head Island. Although these cruises are billed as dolphin watching cruises and this is where their focus is directed, it is possible to see other types of marine life on these cruises. (Theoretically, you could also see a whale, although none of the dolphin cruises advertise this fact, and thus it must be quite rare.)
If you are only interested in seeing whales, your options are quite limited, and in fact they are even more limited than Florida and Georgia (which don’t have very large whale watching scenes to begin with). The reason for this is that although South Carolina is along the route taken by migrating right whales, who head south from the Gulf of Maine to give birth, the whales don’t actually spend the calving season off the South Carolina coast. Rather, they head slightly further south, and that’s why it is easier to see right whales from Georgia and Florida. So, you can essentially only see the right whales in transit from the north to the south or vice versa, or in December and March (roughly). When you combine this with the fact that right whales are exceedingly rare – they are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world – it becomes clear why whale watching in South Carolina is limited. That said, lots of people successfully spot right whales during their migration past South Carolina because they swim near the coast and surface of the water. (As we have noted in past articles, their tendency to swim close to the shore made them the “right whale” to hunt back when whaling still took place off the coast of the U.S., and hence their name.)
So, you can whale watch in South Carolina, but it is difficult, and it is also only possible during a couple of short sections of the year. However, there are cruises that focus on other marine life, and one of these might satisfy your whale watching needs.