VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Whale watching off the Virginia Beach coast can leave onlookers speechless.
"We have the opportunity to see a lot of large whales species that are migrating through, with the humpback being the most common," said Alexis Rabon, naturalist with Rudee Tours.
But what left Rudee Tours awe-struck this week was a sighting of several North Atlantic right whales, spotted about 20 miles off the coast.
"It is estimated there are about 356 whales left in the entire population," said Rabon. "That is very serious; we may see the species go extinct in our lifetime."
The whales are around 130,000 to 150,000 pounds, according to scientists at the Virginia Aquarium. They are critically endangered, which started years ago with whaling and has continued.
"The biggest threat are ship strikes as well as entanglement from fishing gear," Rabon said.
The whales often skim feed on the surface, but they haven’t been seen in this area for more than a decade.
"The last sighting was about 15 years ago," said Rabon.
The good news in all of this is that it is calving season for the North Atlantic right whales, and there have been 11 calves born already this season.
Rudee Tours boats stay far away from the whales, as it is illegal to approach them.
"If one is spotted, you must maintain a distance of 500 yards," she said.
Staying the distance in hopes that these magnificent mammals maintain in our waterways.
"We get a chance to see them, form a connection with the animals, and that allows them to respect them and their homes and want to protect them the best way to conserve these species," said Rabon.