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Whale Watching in Cape Cod Waters

Whale watching in Cape Cod waters often seems to involve little more than setting sail and waiting for the great cetaceans to come up to the boat and say, hello.

It's actually a lot more involved than that, and an entire eco tourism industry has grown up on the Cape that takes millions of visitors out into the ocean to see these majestic creatures up close.

There are two harbors on Cape Cod that serve as starting points for your Cape Cod whale watch. These are Barnstable and Provincetown, both on the bay, or northern side of the Cape.

That is because the best place to go whale watching in Cape Cod waters is the Stellwagen Bank National Marine sanctuary, which is a huge under sea plateau that stretches all the way from Cape Ann, just north of Boston, to the tip of P-Town just north of Cape Cod.

Like the Cape itself, this 800 square mile plateau owes its existence to the last ice age, some 25,000 years ago, when billions of tons of earth and rock were pushed south by the advancing glacier.

When the ice retreated, it left an area that is considerably shallower than the surrounding ocean, and the steep sides of the bank affect deep sea currents in a way that forces them, along with the nutrients and minerals they carry, up to the surface.

That, in turn, brings larger fish and marine mammals to the area to feed, as well as all kinds of seabirds.

The two largest companies that offer trips to go whale watching in Cape Cod waters are the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown and Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises in Barnstable. Both offer excellent service and which one you choose to go with will depend largely on where you're staying on the Cape and how much time you want to spend driving versus sailing out to Stellwagen Bank.

There is also a third option that might work for couples staying at the very upper end of Cape Cod (Bourne, Sandwich and Falmouth), and that is Captain John Boats out of Plymouth.

All three are recognized by Whale Sense, which is the voluntary program that polices whale watch companies and sets responsible whale watching guidelines.

The largest by far, and the first to offer Cape Cod whale watching trips over 35 years ago, is the Dolphin Fleet, which offers up to 12 trips daily in peak season out of MacMillan Warf in P-Town.

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