Summer Bucket List: Go on a Whale Watch! Cape Cod Has You Covered

Welcome to’s Summer Bucket List series, brought to you by the good folks at Cape Cod Calling. Each week, we will bring you a new idea for you to enjoy your summer here on Cape Cod.  

Whale watching is not only a wonderful, exciting way to spend a few hours out on the ocean, but it’s also educational, fun, and surprisingly accessible. The waters around Cape Cod consistently rank as one of the world’s top 10 whale watching destinations.   

Here in New England, whale watching is part of the fabric of coastal region life. It’s an activity that’s loved by all who experience it, including school groups, families, locals, scientists and all who are interested in seeing these gentle giants firsthand and up close. An estimated one million passengers head out each year on whale watching trips to view some of the largest animals on our planet. Most of those sea-going trips head out to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which sits at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.

Stellwagen Bank serves as a sort of paradise for marine mammals. There’s plenty of food and the waters are relatively safe for sea creatures of all shapes and sizes. It also provides the perfect conditions for nursing whales. Of particular importance is the wealth of sand lance (also known as sand eels) that burrow into the coarse sands of the bank. Schools of these fatty (calorie-rich) fish provide excellent nutrition for the whales (as well as larger fish and sea birds) that feed in these waters all summer.

In fact, whales aren’t the only sea creatures you may encounter on a whale watching excursion.  You might also see dolphins, sharks, seals and a variety of different whale species. Springtime offers uncrowded boats and an opportunity for rare sightings. Some 17 species have been seen at one time or another at Stellwagen, but there are several species that are regular visitors, including the humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, northern right whale, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, harbor porpoise, pilot whale, and harbor seal.

The sanctuary is open to all forms of vessels, from sailboats to the largest, ocean-going freighters, but there are several established regulations that prohibit certain activities, like sand and gravel mining, transferring petroleum products, and taking or harming marine mammals, birds and turtles. Some people bring their own boat out to the area to watch the whales, which is easy to do, but you have to be extremely cautious, making sure you don’t strike them with your motor. The sanctuary looks to protect the living and non-living resources located in the sanctuary, but attempts to support traditional uses of the ocean.

There are some wonderful local companies that offer exciting whale watching excursions throughout the season. Seaside Charters out of Provincetown is a great family-owned and operated company,  that offers private whale watching excursions and fishing trips. Barnstable Harbor Eco Tours offers two-hour tours on their 25-passenger pontoon boat. Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises sail daily from mid-April through October, leaving out of Barnstable Harbor. Check out the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce website at for a listing of whale watching cruises all over the Cape.

With thousands of whale watch trips and dozens of years of experience under the belts of seasoned staff, our local captains and marine biologists know where to find the most active whales, whether they are feeding, playing and even breaching.  No matter who you choose to take you on your adventure, you are assured of a memorable and meaningful experience.

There’s nothing like seeing that beautiful giant form as it gracefully rolls or flips a tail close by. Most boats are climate-controlled, have experienced staff to answer your questions, and offer snacks and beverages for a small price. It’s the perfect spring or summer activity for the whole family.

Check Out Other Summer Bucket List Ideas on the Cape!

If you are interested in seeing what else is out there to do on the Cape during the summer, check out our Summer Bucket List with some other ideas.

About Cape Cod Calling - Summer Bucket List Sponsor

Inspired by the beauty and magic of Cape Cod, its people and their many creative talents, Cape Cod Calling was founded by two washashores, Don and Denise Montgomery, who now call Cape Cod home. Cape Cod Calling is a subscription box and gift box curation service. Each box includes a variety of treasures made locally on Cape Cod by the talented Cape Codders and washashores who call Cape Cod home. For more information on Cape Cod Calling, click here.
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