The Cape Cod Connection
Whale Watching Around Cape Cod

Whale Tail
Whale Drawing Whale Types
Migration Patterns
Whale Watch Information
A Little Background
Whale watching is a popular thing to do in this area. Many experienced charter boats offer trips to view the whales as they move and feed along the coast. The two biggest ports for excursion boats are in Provincetown at MacMillan Wharf and in Barnstable Harbor. There are many other excursions that leave from smaller harbors on the Cape and you can also depart from the Boston area.
Whales are aquatic mammals, belonging to a group of animals called cetaceans. They include a large number of species which range in size from the four foot long common porpoise to the blue whale, the largest animal ever to have existed, which can reach lengths of 120 feet. Unlike land mammals, whales breathe through "blowholes" on the tops of their heads and have no fur or hind legs. although they do nurse their young and are warmblooded like other mammals. They swim by means of boneless, horizontal tail flukes. Layers of oil-rich blubber keep the animals well-insulated and can sometimes be up to ten inches thick. Blubber was the prime reason for their decimation by the whaling fleets of the world. Since whales breathe at the surface, the cloud of vapor they leave from their exhaled breath makes them an easy target for hunting.
Whale Types
Two main types of whales exist. Baleen Whales, or whalebone whales, called scientifically the Mysticeti, which are toothless, can weigh up to 150 tons and grow up to 100 feet.
Toothed Whales, the Odontoceti, which are more rarely seen in New England waters, can weigh up to 60 tons and grow up to 55 feet. This group includes all the small species, including the dolphins and porpoises, as well as some of the larger ones like the killer whale and the sperm whale.
Baleen whales, though smaller in number of species, contains the largest living animals known. Even the pygmy right whale attains lengths of 15 feet, while the blue whale can reach 120 feet in length. The triangular horny plates of baleen have a fringed inner edge of brushlike bristles on which the food particles are trapped. The baleen allows these animals to feed on krill, which is a form of marine plankton, found in abundance in the colder ocean waters.
Fin Whales are the largest and most abundant baleen whales in New England's waters, reaching lengths of 70 feet and weighing up to 50 tons. They are named for their well-formed, large dorsal fin and are fast-swimming. A white streak, or chevron, that starts behind these animals' blowholes and extends along each side of their bodies is a distinctive feature.
Right Whales are large, slow-moving baleen whales. Yankees considered them the "right" whale to hunt. As a result, this is a severely depleted species that has been placed on the endangered species list along with the Humpback and the Fin. They are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Because right whales may be sensitive to human activity, any vessel approaching them should only do so with caution. Features include white, crusty growths on the tops of their heads and upper jaws, and the lack of a dorsal fin. They have a very distinctive head shape with dramatically arched jaws.
Humpback Whales are stocky baleen whales, named for the way they arch their backs before they dive. Humpbacks can grow to 50 feet and weigh as much as 30 tons. They have small dorsal fins, and bumps on their heads called "stovebolts" by whalers who believed they held the animals' heads together. These bumps are actually large hair follicles that act as sensory organs. They have long narrow flippers which may measure up to one-third of their body length. Their songs, sometimes lasting 20 minutes and then repeating, consist of clicks, grunts and astonishing ethereal squeals.
Minke Whales are the smallest baleen whale. They grow to about 30 feet and weigh up to 9 tons. Minkes have a pointed head, black back and white belly. Minke inhabit temperate and polar seas of both hemispheres - the northern species being smaller than the southern.
White Sided Dolphins are a small toothed whale. Reaching lengths of about nine feet, they can weigh up to 450 pounds. They have a white streak along each side of their body and a white patch in the middle of each flipper.. They frequently jump through the air and travel in large schools that can number in the thousands.
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Migration Patterns
Many whales swim over 4,000 miles every year from their summer home to their winter home, and back again. Researchers believe that whales use water and wind currents, the temperature and taste of water, and the valleys and ridges of the sea floor to find their way through the ocean each year. Following are some of the best locations and seasons for whale watching.
Fin Whales can be found on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank off the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine, Cape Ann, Long Island and Cape Cod from spring through fall. They move south and offshore to deeper waters in winter, and their calving and breeding areas are unknown.
Right Whales can be spotted on Jeffrey's ledge and Stellwagen Bank of the New England coastline in the early spring. Most calving occurs off Georgia and Florida. Seasonal and annual movements are not well-understood, and are being closely studied by researchers.
Humpback Whales can be seen on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank as well, from spring through fall. In late fall and early winter, they migrate to the Caribbean Sea to breed and calve.
Minke Whales are sighted on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen from spring through fall. Movements are not well studied.
White Sided Dolphins are also found on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank from spring through fall. Seasonal movements are not well understood.
Whale Watch Information
More Information on Whales from the Center For Coastal Studies
Provincetown, Mass
For Reservation or Information Call (508) 255-3857
New England Aquarium in Boston has a whale watch info line.
Their number is 1-617-973-5277.
International Wildlife Coalition and the Whale Adoption Project
70 East Falmouth Highway, East Falmouth, MA 02536 (508) 548-8328
For Whale Research you can contact:
The Cetacean Research Unit
P.O. Box 159, Gloucester, MA 01930
Here are some great images of whales off Stellwagen Bank
"There be Whales Here..", photographs by Karen Strauss.

Here are whale watch Boat Excursions:

MacMillan Wharf
Portuguese Princess Whale Watch of Provincetown
309 Commercial St.,
Provincetown, MA 02657
508-487-2651 or 508-487-3901
The Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown
Macmillan Wharf. P.O. Box 243, Provincetown, MA 02657
Whale Watcher Cruises
Barnstable Harbor, Barnstable 02630

These are all off-Cape excursions and charters:

AC Cruise Line, Boston's Fan Pier
28 Northern Ave., Pier 1, Boston, MA 02210
Atlantic Yankee Fishing & Whale Watch
75 Essex Ave Gloucester, Cape Ann, MA
1-800-WHALING 1-800-942-5464
Barnegat Transportation
23 Congress St. Salem, MA
Bay State Spray and Provincetown Steamship Co.
20 Long Wharf, Aquarium MBTA, Boston, MA 02110
Boston Harbor Cruises
One Long Wharf Boston, MA 02110
Cape Ann Whale Watch
415 Main St Gloucester, Cape Ann, MA
Capt Bill's Whale Watching & Deep Sea Fishing
24 Harbor Loop, Gloucester, Cape Ann, MA
Capt John Boats Inc.
Town Wharf Plymouth, MA
Capt Mac Sport Fishing & Whale Watch Charters
Capt. Paul McLaughlin, P.O. Box 346, Scituate, MA 02060
Toll Free 1-888-CAPTMAC (1-888-227-8622)
East India Cruise Company Salem Whale Watch
197 Derby Street, Salem, MA 01970
On Salem's Historic Pickering Wharf
(508) 741-0434 (800) 745-9594 (508) 744-8718
Massachusetts Guides and Outfitters
P.O. Box 122 N. Pembroke, MA. 02358
Seven Seas Whale Watch Inc.
Seven Seas Wharf Gloucester, Cape Ann, MA
Yankee Whale Watch
79 Essex Ave. Gloucester, Cape Ann, MA