Since they were young, our kids have been fascinated by whales and other sea mammals. To this day, our teen Princess can barely contain her excitement when she has an opportunity to visit an aquarium or aqua theme parks like Discovery Cove. Living in New England, we are lucky that every spring and summer several types of whales, as well as dolphins and other sea creatures return to the waters off the Massachusetts Coast. In fact, in just the last few weeks two rare 70-ton North American right whales have been spotted off of Cape Cod. Humpbacks, minke whales and finbacks are also common visitors and are beginning to be sighted as well.
From early April to late October, whale watching voyages are available on a range of boats from high speed catamarans to slower day cruises or private fishing vessels docked in harbors from Cape Ann, to Boston, to Cape Cod. The New England Aquarium partners with Boston Harbor Cruises to steer a 400-passenger, three-deck custom built catamaran to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The high speed boat makes the round trip in 3 hours.
Options north of Boston include 7 Seas Whale Watch and Cape Ann Whale Watch which both depart from Gloucester. The Dolphin Fleet sails from Provincetown and Hyannis Whale Watch Cruises leaves from Barnstable on Cape Cod. Captain John departs from Plymouth, a 45 minute drive south of Boston.
Most of the boats bring along a naturalist to help identify the various whales – each has a name and a history. We’ve gone on several whale watches over the years and each experience has been different. One trip may feature dozens of whales feeding and breaching on a sunny day, while another may find few whales, rough seas, and wind driven rain. Most boats will give you a free ticket for another day if you don’t see any whales at all but each boat’s policy is different. Reservations are usually a good idea but check about cancellation policies in case of bad weather. Mid-week trips are less likely to sell out than weekends.
Before making a reservation we find it helpful to read reviews and consider our family’s preferences for on board amenities, the size and age of the boat and the tradeoff between cost and speed and how much time you want to spend actually looking at the whales. Prices typically range from $45 to $50 per adult and $30 to $35 for a child age 11 or younger. Some fleets offer family discounts or reduced ticket pricing for last minute sales. Be sure to leave yourself enough travel time to find the dock, park and get on board at least 15 minutes before your scheduled departure – you don’t want to get left behind!
If you hit a day when the whales decide to put on a show your whale watch might be the highlight of a family vacation to New England, a fun break from college tours, or a memorable outing to share with visiting relatives. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the whales of New England up close this spring or summer.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia