Cape Cod whale watching will bring you up close and personal with some of the world’s largest and most majestic creatures.
It is one of the most unique and exciting things to do while on Cape Cod.
Humpback, finback and minke whales make their summer homes near Cape Cod.
The chance to see these and other sea creatures in their natural habitat is not to be missed.
Whale watching cruises leave daily from Provincetown and Barnstable Harbors on the Cape and from Plymouth Harbor just off Cape.
Cape Cod Whale Watching Season
While there are whales on Cape Cod year round, the main Cape Cod whale watching season is April through October, with the peak of the season during the summer months.
While on a Cape Cod whale watching cruise June through September, you are virtually guaranteed whale sightings.
Where The Whales Congregate
All of the Cape Cod whale watching cruises take you to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the whales’ favorite spring and summer feeding grounds.
The bank starts about six miles north of Provincetown on Cape Cod, and reaches 19 miles north to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, very near Gloucester.
The water in Stellwagen Bank is shallow, causing the plankton to rise close to the surface, making it easy for the whales to feed.
Seeing whales here is such a sure thing that most cruises guarantee a sighting.
Cape Cod Whale Watching Cruises
Cape Cod whale watching cruises leave from Provincetown, Barnstable Harbor and just off the Cape in Plymouth.
- Provincetown is at the far tip of Cape Cod and is most convenient if you are staying on the Outer Cape. It is also the closest to the viewing grounds.
- Barnstable Harbor is located on Cape Cod Bay and is most convenient if you are staying on Mid Cape.
- Plymouth is just off Cape on Cape Cod Bay and is most convenient if you are staying near the Cape Cod bridges.
Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises
Capt. Johns Whale Watching
10 Town Wharf
What to Expect on a Cape Cod Whale Watching Cruise
During your cruise, each boat will have naturalists on board to help you spot and identify these beautiful whales and other sea life.
Hopefully, you will get the chance to see a whale or several whales breach (leap up out of the water), sound (dive to feed, popping their tails out of the water as they go) and spyhop (hold their heads out of the water) on your trip.
The whales will sometimes even slap the water with their gigantic flippers, flippers that can reach 15 feet long.
The feeling you get when you first spot a whale from the whale watching boat is indescribable!
The naturalists may also teach you how to watch the water patterns to predict when a whale is nearby.
Schools of sand lance, tiny fish that whales like to chase, beneath the surface will form a v-like pattern when trying to escape a feeding whale.
When you see this V of sand lance, there is generally a whale below looking for a meal.
Another way to find the whales is to look for the sea birds hovering over the water, waiting for fish to be chased near the surface.
The most common whale to see on a Cape Cod whale watching cruise is the humpback.
The naturalists research, photograph and track each humpback, seeing the same whales and their calves year after year. The whales are generally identified and named for the unique markings on the underside of their tail or fluke.
Humpback whales aren’t the only whales to see on the Stellwagen Bank though.
Often, whale watchers will spot huge finback whales and smaller, quicker minke whales too.
Less often, sei whales, pilot whales, dolphins and porpoises make appearances on a cruise.
Some boats even have underwater microphones to try to hear the subsurface sounds of the whales.
Sea birds, giant ocean sunfish, basking sharks, blue sharks and blue fin tuna are also often highlights of a Stellwagen Bank cruise. You may also see seals and one has to believe it is only a matter of time before we see Great White Sharks!
Each Cape Cod whale watching boat has snack bars, restrooms and gift shops on board.
Cruises last for about 3 or 4 hours. Adult tickets cost approximately $40; prices are lower for children. Be sure to check the internet and local guide magazines for coupons too!
What To Bring
As big and comfortable as the Cape Cod whale watching boats may be, don’t forget that this is a three to four hour trip in open waters.
The wind can get chilly, so don’t forget a jacket or sweatshirt.
Equally important, some sunblock and sunglasses or a hat will keep you from regretting your trip the next day!
Wear rubber-soled shoes or sneakers for good traction on deck.
Bring a pair of binoculars for closer views of whales and other wildlife.
And don’t forget your camera!
Cape Cod Whale Watching Video
Here is a pretty cool video that shows some of the typical whale behavior off the coast of Cape Cod.
Whales You Are Likely To See On A Cape Cod Whale Watching Excursion
Adults measure 40-50 feet in length. Its flippers are extremely long, between 1/4 and 1/3 the length of its body.
Humpback whales are active, acrobatic whales.
They can throw themselves completely out of the water (breaching), and swim on their backs with both flippers in the air.
They also engage in “tail lobbing” (raising their huge flukes out of the water and then slapping it on the surface) and “flipper slapping” (using their flippers to slap the water).
It is possible that these behaviors are important in communication between humpbacks.
The fin whale is long, sleek, and streamlined, with a V-shaped head which is flat on top. Adults measure up to 80 feet in length. They have a prominent, curved dorsal fin and small, tapered flippers. They are usually found alone, but do travel in pods of 3-7 individuals.
The minke whale is the smallest whale that you are likely to encounter on a Cape Cod whale watching trip, with adults averaging 25-30 feet in length. Minke whales tend to travel alone, but can be found in small groups.
Illustrations courtesy Uko Gorter, copyright© 2003, 2006 all rights reserved.
While these are the most common sightings on a Cape Cod whale watching cruise, you may also see the endangered Northern Right whale, Sei Whales, porpoises and dolphins.
History of the Cape Cod Whales
While on your Cape Cod whale watching cruise, you will also likely learn a little bit about the important part whales played in the history of Cape Cod.
Shortly after the Pilgrims arrived in the 1600s and for centuries afterwards, whales were plentiful in the waters surrounding the Cape.
Unfortunately for the whale population, it became very profitable to hunt whales.
Whale oil was used to make soap, lamp oil, machinery oil, candles, and even crayons.
Whale bones were carved into fishing poles, corset stays and crochet hooks.
A substance found only in the sperm whale was used to make fine perfumes.
Because of this profit-making potential, Cape Cod hosted major fleets of whale hunting boats.
The economy boomed and many species of whales were hunted close to extinction.
They are protected now, and Cape Cod whale watching cruises are a fantastic opportunity to take a closer look.
We hope that you have found the information on Cape Cod whale watching useful. The next time you’re on the Cape, try one of the cruises you will be glad you did!
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