Whale Watching on Cape Cod

Close up of three whales breaking the water with their mouths.

Photo courtesy of Nick Martelli

Of the many unique and wonderful things to do on Cape Cod, a whale watching adventure is high on most everyone’s list. Right whales are frolicking in Cape Cod Bay right now, and soon the humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes will return to feed on Stellwagen Bank.

Stellwagen Bank, an 842-square-mile section of shallows lying in the Gulf of Maine just off the mouth of Cape Cod Bay, is prime fishing ground. A protected National Marine Sanctuary since 1992, whales are attracted to the area due to its abundant supply of plankton and krill, prime food source for these enormous mammals.

If you’re planning to go whale watching on your next visit to the Whalewalk Inn and Spa in Eastham, it’s helpful to know a few things in advance so that you can plan the perfect outing.

Whale Watching Season
Right whales begin returning to Cape Cod as early as January. However, the season doesn’t really get going until mid-April and runs through mid- to late-October, when the whales begin to migrate south for the winter. Typically, June, July, August, and September are the best months for spotting whales, while they are frantically feeding in anticipation of their migration south.

Humpbacks feed for about six or seven months along Stellwagen Bank, and then leave the area, fasting until they return the following year from their wintering ground in the West Indies, where they breed and give birth. For many, humpback whales are the most popular species to watch because they are inquisitive enough to come very close to the whale watching boats and have an engaging tendency to perform.

Keep an Eye on the Weather
Blue skies and light winds the ideal conditions for whale watching, of course, but light rain or cloudy conditions do not impede the whales. Check the weather report for marine conditions, especially for predicted swells. Unless you’re a fan of rocking and rolling on the ocean, look for light seas, or swells of less than two feet. When in doubt about the conditions, contact the cruise company. The boats don’t go out in threatening weather; safety of the passengers and crew are always the number one priority. The boats have ample protected cover, but pack a hooded rain slicker if rain threatens and you’ll be all set to enjoy the spirited antics of feeding whales.

What to Wear/How to Prepare
The best advice is to dress in layers. The air temperature at sea is always about 10 degrees cooler than on land. Wind and rain protection will be appreciated if conditions are not ideal. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are recommended to protect you from the sun. Skip the flipflops and wear close-toed shoes for added stability on rough seas. Be sure to pack a camera to capture those up close and personal shots of whales breaching or tail waving. And if prone to seasickness, purchase some over-the-counter medication as a precaution.

Whale Watch Excursions
Two popular companies offer whale watching excursions on Cape Cod. Depending on the location of your accommodations you may prefer one company over the other. The Hyannis Whale Watcher departs from Barnstable Harbor in the mid-Cape area, while the Dolphin Fleet calls the tip of Cape Cod home at Provincetown. Regardless of which company you choose, you will find comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, rest rooms, snack bar, and onboard naturalists to offer engaging, entertaining, and educational narrative to your excursion. In the unlikely event that no whales are spotted during your time on the boat, you will be offered a raincheck for a return trip.

Check with your innkeepers for discount whale watch coupons and parking advice. Experiencing whales cavorting in their natural environment is one of those “bucket list” adventures that memories are made of. Book your favorite room at the Inn and start planning your own whale watching adventure.

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