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About Whales

Whales are aquatic mammals, belonging to a group of animals called cetaceans. They include a large number of species which range in size from the four foot long common porpoise to the blue whale, the largest animal ever to have existed, which can reach lengths of 120 feet. Unlike land mammals, whales breathe through "blowholes" on the tops of their heads and have no fur or hind legs. although they do nurse their young and are warmblooded like other mammals. Layers of oil-rich blubber keep the animals well-insulated. Since whales breathe at the surface, the cloud of vapor they leave from their exhaled breath makes them an easy target for spot when whale-watching.

Where to See Whales

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is one of the 5 top spots in the world to see whales. See below for more information:

Top Wildlife Video -- Rare Blue Whale off Cape Cod (2011)

Best Times of the Year for New England Whale Watching

In the months of May, June, July, August, September, October whale watching is at its peak. Many whales swim over 4,000 miles each and every year from their summer home to their winter home, and then back again. Many researchers believe that whales use water and wind currents, the temperature and taste of water, and the valleys and ridges of the sea floor to find their way through the forbidding ocean each year. Based on my experience, the following are some of the top locations and seasons for whale watching.

  • Fin Whales can be found on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank off the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine, Cape Ann, Long Island and Cape Cod from spring through fall. They move south and offshore to deeper waters in winter, and their calving and breeding areas are unknown. Best months: May, June, July.
  • Right Whales can be spotted on Jeffrey's ledge and Stellwagen Bank of the New England coastline in the early spring. Most calving occurs off Georgia and Florida. Seasonal and annual movements are not well-understood, and are being closely studied by researchers. Best months: March, April, May
  • Humpback Whales can be seen on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank as well, from spring through fall. In late fall and early winter, they migrate to the Caribbean Sea to breed and calve. Best months: May, June, July, August, September, October.
  • Minke Whales are sighted on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen from spring through fall. Movements are not well studied. Best months: May, June, July, August, September, October.
  • White Sided Dolphins are also found on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank from spring through fall. Seasonal movements are not well understood. Best months: May, June, July, August, September, October.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Go to Hyannis, Massachusetts to whale watch. 25 miles east of Boston is the 842-square-mile marine sanctuary called Stellwagen Bank, the very best place in Massachusetts to see a number of species of whales. The underwater plateau is a veritable buffet of the fish that whales love to eat. Take a cruise offered by one of the many boat companies to look for Atlantic white-sided dolphins, fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales, northern right whales, pilot whales, as well as harbor porpoises and Harbor Seals. -- Kim Foley MacKinnon

I took the above advice, and traveled to Cape Cod in October of 2011 to see the whales. Instead of the Hyannis charter tour boat, we took the Dolphin Fleet tour boats leaving from Provincetown (which makes for a shorter journey to/from the whale feeding areas within Stellwagen Bank -- see Whale Watching). As it turns out, we got extremely lucky, spotting the first Blue Whale seen off the coast of Massachusetts since 2008. This 80 foot blue whale had wondered into Stellwagen Bank, and (as it turned out) stayed there for a couple of days. The tour boat's naturalist was so excited that they called for local reporters, who took the next boat out to film the blue whales (but you can see my original video above). But there must have been a great supply of plankton, as we also spotted Sei Whales (very rare for the area) as well as Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, and Minke Whales (which are seen much more regularly off Massachusetts). Overall, it was a pretty amazing day to see 5 different whale species -- including the Blue Whale, the largest animal on earth ... and believed to be the largest animal that ever lived (larger than any dinosaur). -- William S. Howard.

Rhode Island

Frances Fleet (see Frances Fleet Whale Watching) offers Whale Watching trips in the summer months. The ocean waters off Rhode Island coast are exposed to warm water eddies which break off from the Gulf Stream. Waters in the summer can reach temperatures in the high 70’s. It is in these warm waters where the fabulous Fin Whales come to feed. On a Whale watch trip you might see other whales such as Humpbacks, Minke, Pilot, False Killer, and even a Sei whale. Tours are run on Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat. & Sun. from July 1st thru August 28th, departing at 1:00 pm.

Newburyport, Massachusetts

View the whales off of Stellwagen Bank on a naturalist-led whale watches, done aboard the Prince of Whales boat, leaving from Newburyport, Massachusetts. See Newburyport Whale Watch.

Rye Harbor, New Hampshire

Naturalist Scott Mercer, operated the first whale watch excursion carrying passengers from a New Hampshire port. He uses his experience to locate the larger concentrations of whales on Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank. Atlantic Whale Watch.


Six whale species can be seen along Maine’s coast: three great whites — the Finback, the Humpback and the Minke; the North Atlantic Right Whale and the Pilot whale; and, less often seen, Orca (killer whales). There are a number of different Whale Watching Trip operators who operate from various ports in Maine, taking trips out to Jeffery's Ledge and the Sagadahoc Grounds where humpback, fin and Minke whales live. In mid-April, the whales arrive, cruising the coast until October, when they leave for warmer waters. The best time of year to see whales in Maine is June, July and the beginning of August. Most tours are daily in the summer, and weekends in the spring and fall. in Kennybunk, see First Chance Whale Watch. In Portland, see Odyssey Whale Watch. And in Boothbay harbor, see Boothbay Whale Watch. By the way, if you are in Boothbay Harbor, you will definitely want to check out the Puffins at Eastern Egg Rock! It's the best place in the US to see puffins. See Maine Puffin Tours.


In Maui, Hawaii, between December 15 and May 15, thousands of humpback whales gather in the sheltered waters bordering Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Kahoolawe spending the winter breading and providing daily entertainment. On average, between 8,500 and 10,000 humpback whales congregate here, making it a top spot to see the Humpback Whale. There are lots of boat operators who will take you out to see the Humpback Whales.


Click on any photo to enlarge...


Maine Whale Watching