Whale Watching In New England
Our collective fascination with whales has resulted in whale watching becoming a billion-dollar industry, with at least 87 countries worldwide providing some type of whale watching activity. However, it is the waters off New England, and particularly Cape Cod, that have been referred to as the "whale watching capital of the world." New England waters are also home to Stellwagen Bank, the only federally protected National Marine Sanctuary in the northeast United States.
And while whale watching continues to grow as a recreational activity, it has also become a critical tool for education, research and policy. The economic and scientific contributions of whale watching are becoming increasingly important as Japan, Iceland, Norway, and a number of other countries try to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling. WDCS has been a strong advocate for whale watching as a sustainable non-consumptive use of whales. We believe that when done responsibly, whale watching can benefit both people and whales.
A good way to prepare for a whale watch trip is to read about the whales before you go to see them. Field guides will offer clues to help identify the kind of whale you are looking at. Asymmetrical coloring can identify the animal as a Fin whale, while long pectoral flippers will let you know you are looking at a Humpback whale. Learning about the natural and life history of the whales, such as migratory patterns, food preferences, behavior, and social structure can enhance your experience.
Whale watching is offered throughout New England from Massachusetts to Maine. Most cruises depart between April and October, but individual operation times may vary between companies. The length of trip is also variable, depending on the location of the whales, but generally averages between three and six hours. Departure points include: Brier Island, Nova Scotia; Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor Kennebunkport, Lubec, Northeast Harbor, Ogunquit, and Portland, Maine; Hampton Beach, Portsmouth, and Rye, New Hampshire; Barnstable, Boston, Gloucester, Nantucket, Newburyport, Plymouth, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
We recommend supporting responsible commercial whale watch companies that abide by whale watching guidelines and have qualified naturalists on board.
In order to appreciate how an animal behaves in a natural setting, it is important to minimize your impact on the situation. WDCS, in conjunction with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the National Marine Fisheries Service developed a program called See A Spout, Watch Out!, Responsible Whale Watching. This educational outreach program helps recreational boaters learn how to safely operate their boats around whales. We have also been on the Whale Watch Advisory Committee and helped to design the whale watch guidelines in the Northeast Region of the United States. The National Marine Fisheries Service also publishes guidelines and regulations specifically for whale watching. Before you go to watch whales, you should contact the regional office (www.nmfs.noaa.gov) for a copy.
WDCS has long supported responsible commercial whale watching as an alternative to whaling. Sadly, while Iceland has a thriving whale watch industry, they have resumed whaling- putting the very animals that are being watched, at risk of being hunted. Whale watching, when done properly, is not only commercially viable, it is an important resource for the long term conservation of whales as a platform for research and a venue for education. WDCS, in partnership with NOAA has developed Whale SENSE, a responsible whale watching program for the Northeast Region (Maine to Virginia). To find a company with Whale SENSE, please go to www.whalesense.org