Whale watching is one of the coolest things to do while vacationing on Cape Cod. But it helps to know a little bit about when to go, what to wear, and how to prepare. Many of the guests at our bed and breakfast on Cape Cod ask us about whale watching, and we wholeheartedly encourage them to take the plunge. Its an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime. And, Cape Cod is one of the premier whale-watching destinations in the world. Here are some tips for whale watching on Cape Cod to get you started.
When and Where to Spot Whales
Humpback, finbacks, and minkes feed off the coast of Cape Cod from April through October. These gentle giants return year after year to feed along Stellwagen Bank. A protected National Marine Sanctuary since 1992, Stellwagen attracts whales due to its abundant food supply. This area at the mouth of Cape Cod Bay is rich with plankton, squid, herring, and sand eels, all favorites of the whales that migrate here in season.
Whale Watching Safety
State and federal agencies have strict guidelines intended to protect the whales while feeding offshore. All watercraft are prohibited from coming within 300 yards of most whales and 500 yards of the endangered right whale. To comply with those regulations, it’s best to take a licensed whale watch tour with one of the registered excursion companies serving Cape Cod.
Whale Watch Tours
Hyannis Whale Watcher, departing from Barnstable Harbor in the mid-Cape area, offers daily excursions throughout the season. A state-of-the-art vessel designed especially for whale watching, the ship is equipped with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, a well-stocked snack bar, restrooms, and all safety equipment.
Tip: While paid parking is available at the pier, you can park for free at the Barnstable County Courthouse and walk 15 minutes to the pier.
The Dolphin Fleet sails out of Provincetown. With several sailing vessels in the fleet, tours run frequently from the dock in the heart of town at MacMillan Pier. Comfort-controlled ships equipped with food and beverage service and plenty of indoor and outdoor viewing options run daily in season.
Tip: Because parking can be a problem at the lot by the pier, allow extra time to find a spot in one of the private lots in town and walk to the pier.
No matter which company you choose to go out with, you’ll be accompanied by an onboard naturalist. Their job is to spot the whales and offer insight on whale behavior patterns. Most naturalists will add commentary on the local ecology and history of Stellwagen Bank. Naturalists that have worked around whales for a long time can identify individual whales by distinctive markings. Looking carefully for identifiable markings on the whale’s flukes, body, or head, the naturalist can offer specific details of their lives, from their offspring to their migration patterns. Humpback whales are the most fun to watch because they are naturally inquisitive. They’ll often come close to the boats to have a look around. And many seem to enjoy performing for the crowd with tail and fin waves, and most impressive, breaching.
Plan to be out on the boat for 3 ½ to 4 hours. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a light jacket, as it can get cool out on the water, even when it’s blisteringly hot at the pier. Stay hydrated, too. If you don’t bring water with you, you can purchase some on board. And, if you have a tendency to motion sickness, medicate before getting on board, just in case. All whale-watching excursions guarantee sightings during the season. So, on the off chance that no whales are spotted, you’ll be given a rain check to use at another time.
Whale watch excursions go out in season, rain or shine. Don’t be disappointed if your trip is interrupted by a little wet weather. The boats have comfortable indoor seating as well as outdoor viewing options. Bring a rain coat if the forecast calls for a shower. But rest assured, you’ll still see whales even if it rains. A little downpour won’t interrupt their daily antics. Of course, ideal conditions for whale watching would be light winds and swells of 2 feet or less. Check the marine forecast if you’re in doubt about going out. And call the tour operator for advice. If the weather conditions seem threatening, the boats won’t go out. Your safety and theirs is of utmost importance.
So next time you visit us at the Captain Farris House on Cape Cod, book a whale watch adventure. We’re centrally located, so both tour operators are within easy access of the Inn.