It's no coincidence that Moby Dick and much of America's historical whaling culture is centered in Cape Cod.
Gone are the whalers, but the Cape is still considered the best place on the East Coast to watch whales,
especially in spring and summer. It's all thanks to the Stellwagen Bank, which is a massive underwater
plateau off the Cape's northern tip. Because of currents pushing down the coast from Nova Scotia, the bank is
home to a rich food chain that makes it a three star feeding ground for whales.
The spring and fall are excellent times to go whalewatching and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to
see these incredible creatures up close!
Whalewatching as a science and tourist attraction started right here in Provincetown in 1975, when scientists
from the Center for Coastal Studies teamed up with our charter fishing captains to observe and study the
three species of whales which are found in the waters nearby.
Finback and humpback whales are regularly seen from April to October, and scientists have discovered that
the waters of Cape Cod Bay are also an important breeding ground for the extremely rare North Atlantic right
Whales are divided into two groups, the toothed whales and the baleen whales. This minke whale is a typical
baleen whale. Baleen whales are generally solitary animals. They use their baleen plates (called "whalebone"
by early whalers) to filter small fish and plankton from the water.
This Atlantic white-sided dolphin is similar to many of the other dolphin species, all of which are toothed
whales. These toothed whales are highly social animals, often traveling in large "pods" which may number as
many as 400-500 animals. Toothed whales feed on fish and squid.
Some species of whales can be individually identified by differences in the natural markings found on their
bodies. Thanks to the access provided by the Dolphin Fleet, scientists from the Center for Coastal Studies
have been able to follow many of these whales throughout their lives. We know that many of these individuals
return here every year to feed and raise their young, how often they bear calves, how long they take to reach
sexual maturity -- information essential to protecting them.
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaengliae) spends its spring, summer and fall months in northern waters,
where it feeds on the small schooling fish which occur here. Late in the year, humpbacks migrate to the
waters of the West Indies where they mate and bear their calves. Humpbacks are easy to tell apart, using the
black and white pattern on their tail flukes. There are about 550 humpback whales
in the Gulf of Maine, many of which frequent Cape Cod waters. The humpback is a large whale, often reaching
lengths of 40-50 feet. It is distinguished by its long white flippers and the fact that it often raises its
tail high out of the water when it dives.
The fin whale, or finback (Balaenoptera physalus) is somewhat larger than the humpback, reaching lengths of
50-75 feet. It is also a more streamlined animal, moving quickly through the water. Fin whales can be
individually identified by using a combination of body characteristics: dorsal fin shape, scars, and, the
most telling characteristic but also the most difficult to photograph, the subtle shadings and swirls on
the right side of the whale called the blaze and chevron. Fin whales are unique in that they are
asymmetrically colored; the whale's lower right jaw is white and its lower left jaw is dark grey or black.
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is the most endangered of all the world's great whales.
Once found in Cape Cod Bay in huge numbers, there are fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales remaining in
the world today. The right whale's long baleen plates covered in a thick mat of fine hairs, help this 45-50
foot animal to strain tiny plankton from the water for food. Right whales can be identified by the differences
in "callosity" patterns on their heads and lips; these callosities are actually bumps covered with tiny
whale "lice". Right whales are found in the Massachusetts area in the late winter and early spring months.
They use these waters as a feeding ground and nursery for mothers with young calves.
What you might see there: Northern right whale (rarest in the world) in April, humpbacks, minkes, fins,
When to go: April to October
Viewing options: Boat