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Provincetown Whale Watch With Dolphin Fleet

The largest Provincetown whale watch company, indeed the first to offer whale watching trips anywhere on the east coast, is the Dolphin Fleet, which offers up to 12 trips daily in peak season out of MacMillan Warf in P-Town.

The biggest selling point Dolphin Fleet has is that Provincetown is the closest harbor to Stellwagen Bank, which is just six miles north of Race Point. This means Provincetown whale watch boats can have you in the company of the whales in much less time than those that leave from either Barnstable or Plymouth.


The Provincetown whale watch industry was born on April 15, 1975 when charter boat captain Al Avellar left Provincetown Harbor with a boatload of school children. Whaling had been banned in US waters four years earlier, but Avellar wasn't concerned about that since he had no intention of causing any harm to the whales.

Provincetown Whale Watch

As a fishing boat charter captain, he had noticed over the years that every time a whale surfaced near his boat, the fishermen on board would all drop their rods to go and look at the spectacle.

Pretty soon it dawned on him that, if people who had paid him to take them fishing were willing to drop what they were doing to see the whales, maybe non-fishing types would be willing to pay for a whale watching trip in itself.

But it was Avellar's partnership with marine biologist Dr. Charles "Stormy" Mayo that set Dolphin Fleet on a path that was more than just watching the whales, and turned each trip into a educational experience. Mayo was co-founder of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, a non-profit organization established to preserve marine mammals and coastal habitats.

Mayo immediately saw the value in using the daily whale watching trips as an opportunity to study the whales in their natural habitat. Soon the Dolphin Fleet was able to put an expert naturalist on board every boat, and the company flourished.

In 2008 Dolphin Fleet merged with its only serious competitor in the Provincetown whale watch business, the Portuguese Princess and now the combined company has more boats and offers more trips than any other whale watch company in New England.

The industry itself has flourished, too, and now operates out of ports up and down the east coast, taking up to 2 million visitors a year out to see the whales. Whale watching now contributes up to $100 million to the New England tourist industry.

What to Expect

A Provincetown whale watch trip will typically last about 3-4 hours and will take you the six miles or so north to Stellwagen bank.

Insiders' View

Allow plenty of time for parking. There is parking available at MacMillan Warf, but spots fill up quickly and the next nearest lot is a few blocks away.

That may not seem like far, but in P-Town's narrow, crowded streets, it can take a surprisingly long time to get from point A to point B. Allow 20-30 minutes before your departure time to figure out what you're going to do with the car.

So confident are the operators that they know where to find the whales, they actually offer a rain check for any passengers who take a trip and do not see any.

Almost as soon as the boats leave Provincetown harbor, the on board naturalist from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies begins a running commentary that tells visitors what kinds of whales to look for.

There are five types that inhabit these waters: the Humpback, the Finback, the Minke, the Sei and the Pilot. Northern Right whales have also traditionally called this area home, but these creatures are very rare now, with scientists estimating that fewer than 300 remain in the Atlantic.

You're most likely to see Humpback, finback and minke, and each sighting really is quite a thrill. The whales will occasionally roll from side to side, sometimes diving under the boats. Sometimes you'll see them breaching (leaping straight out of the water into the air), spyhopping (holding their heads high out of the water as if having a look around) or sounding (executing a dive).

Each of these behaviors has a meaning which the naturalist will explain. This really is as much an educational experience as it is a sight-seeing trip.

What to Wear

Dress in layers so that you can be ready for warm or cool weather. It can be quite chilly out on the water, even in the summertime – and windy, too. Definitely take along a windbreaker, waterproof if possible, since there's a pretty good chance you'll end up getting drenched. And a change of clothes kept in the car on dry land is a good idea, particularly if the plan is to wander around P-Town after your trip.

You should also wear sneakers or shoes with good traction and, since you'll be out on the ocean, sun block is a must and sunglasses are highly recommended.

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