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Facts about whales

Whale classification

Breeding patterns of whales

Whale migration

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Cape Cod

humpback whale 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 whale

Baleen Whales
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.

Toothed Whales
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.

Fin Whale
finback whale 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.

Right Whale
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, pilots
When to go: April to October
Viewing options: Boat

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