Did you know that Sandbridge Beach, a community of Virginia Beach, is one of the nation's prime locales for watching dolphins at play?
It's true. The shallow shoreline waters just offSandbridge Beach literally teem with dolphins, especially when the weather iswarmer. Visit the shore at sunrise or sunset for your best chance to spot thesebeloved marine mammals as they leap and frisk in the waves.
More than 30 kinds of dolphin inhabit the Atlantic Oceanjust off southern Virginia. Spotted and white-sided dolphins sometimes appearclose to shore. But the best-known species is the Atlantic bottlenose... andthat's the kind you're likeliest to see at secluded Sandbridge Beach.
Famous for their winsome "smiles," thesefriendly, intelligent creatures prefer warmer coastal waters where they canfeed on plentiful fish. As temperatures dip, they'll migrate south - to NorthCarolina and even farther. That's why warm months make the perfect time fordolphin watching at Sandbridge. Fortunately, they are also ideal for a seasidefamily vacation!
What Do They Look Like?
You'll easily recognize a bottlenose. It'srelatively large - eight to 12 feet long in adulthood - with a gray back, whitishbelly, and eyes set wide apart, one on each side of its head. Its distinctivesnout is long and round, while its dorsal fin (on the middle of its back) iscurved, not straight like a shark's. It uses its two front flippers to steerand its two back flukes (i.e., tail) for swimming. It breathes through a singleblowhole, and it catches its food by grasping it between two sets of small,sharp teeth.
A typical bottlenose male can weigh up to 1,100pounds. Yet despite this girth, these muscular animals are amazingly agile.You'll see them jumping up to 20 feet in the air, blowing bubbles, smacking thewater surface, and even butting heads.
You can hearbottlenose, too. They communicate with each other by whistling - each dolphinhas a "signature whistle" - and they navigate by clicking. (Thesehigh-frequency clicks serve as a sonar system, known as echolocation.)
How to Spot Dolphins at Sandbridge Beach
Dolphin watching is easy. No need for any fancyequipment or elaborate preparations. Simply stroll along the beach at dawn ordusk. Or stake out a spot on the Little Island Pier. Dolphin sightings aren'tguaranteed, but they're extremely common. If you're at the shore at feeding time,you're fairly sure to see a few bottlenose. Don't be disappointed if they don'tshow up your first time. Just come back the next day... or the next.
Like all dolphins, bottlenose are social animals.While a few may swim alone, most swim in groups of up to 12 or more, known aspods or schools. Some pods can number as high as 25. So, if you spot onebottlenose, you'll soon see others as well.
Get "Up Close and Personal"
Want to come just a little closer to these amazingcreatures? Venture out beyond the shore in a boat or kayak during peak sightinghours. Dolphins love boats - and people! - so you may find yourself surroundedby a welcoming pod. Don't be afraid; these affectionate mammals truly mean noharm. Chances are they'll swim alongside your craft or perhaps cruise in itswake.
Do you surf? You may encounter a pod of dolphins asyou ride the waves. Like human surfers, bottlenose love to catch incoming wavesas they crest and pound the shore. You could find yourself surfing side by sidewith a few frolicking companions.
Prefer an easier way to meet and greet Sandbridgedolphins? Try stand-up paddleboarding, preferably when the surf is not too high.Who knows? You just might paddle your way into the midst of a playful pod.
Resist the urge to pet your new friends, however.Dolphins have very sensitive skin, easily damaged by human contact. Plus, ifyou're alone, you could put yourself at risk. Remember, these animals are a lotbigger than you are!
Ramp up the Fun with a Dolphin Tour
How would you like to watch dolphins splash and playas you relax in a luxurious cruise boat, with wraparound windows for thrilling360-degree views?
Several companies in nearby Virginia Beach offer thiskind of experience. One of those companies, Rudee Tours, even guarantees dolphin sightings: If youdon't spot at least one dolphin during your 90-minute excursion, your next tripis totally free.
Rudee Tours operates out of Rudee Inlet, about 15miles north of Sandbridge Beach. Its two-level, 65-foot-long boat, the RudeeFlipper, provides amenities galore, including spacious, comfortable seating anddelicious food and drink. Veteran staffers are on hand to regale you withfascinating dolphin lore. What better way to enjoy a leisurely sighting?
Sandbridge Beach: The Dolphins' Playground
There are few things more thrilling than a dolphin sighting, when the bottlenose are leaping and soaring, with the setting sun glinting on their sleek, silvery backs. Why not treat your family to this unforgettable experience?