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Watching Whales from Shore On Cape Cod


Whale Watching From Cape Cod / © Jennifer Kennedy

Watching a whale from the beach on Cape Cod. Race Point Beach, Cape Cod, MA.

© Jennifer Kennedy, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

Thousands of people flock to Cape Cod each year to go whale watching. Most watch whales from boats, but in the spring, you can visit the Cape and watch whales from shore.

The tip of Cape Cod is located only 3 miles from the southern end of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a prime feeding ground for whales. When the whales migrate north in the spring, the waters around Cape Cod are one of the first great feeding locations they encounter.

Whale Species Common Off Cape Cod:

North Atlantic right whales, humpback, fin and minke whales may be seen off Cape Cod in the spring. Some stick around during the summer, too, although they may not always be close to shore.

Other sightings in the area include Atlantic white-sided dolphins and occasionally other species such as pilot whales, common dolphins, harbor porpoise and Sei whales.

Why Are They Here?:

Many whales migrate to breeding grounds further south or offshore during the winter. Depending on the species and location, the whales may fast this entire time. In the spring, these whales migrate north to feed, and Cape Cod Bay is one of the first major feeding areas they get to. The whales may stay in the area throughout the summer and fall, or may migrate to more northern locations such as more northern areas of the Gulf of Maine, the Bay of Fundy, or off northeastern Canada.

Whale Watching From Shore:

I attended a workshop in Provincetown, MA in early April 2010. From Provincetown, there are two locations close by from which we could watch whales, Race Point and Herring Cove. Over the 3 days I was in the area, we went to each beach several times and found humpbacks, fin whales, minkes and possibly even some right whales circling around the waters offshore. It didn’t seem to matter the time of day, as we were there early in the morning, in the middle of the day and in early evening and whales were still visible and active.

What To Bring:

If you go, make sure to bring binoculars and/or a camera with a long zoom lens (e.g., 100-300mm) as the whales are far enough offshore that it’s hard to pick out any details with the naked eye. One day we were lucky enough to spot one of the Gulf of Maine's estimated 800 humpback whales with her calf, likely only a few months old.

What To Look For:

When you go, the spouts are what you’ll look for. The spout, or “blow,” is the whale’s visible exhalation as it comes up to the surface to breathe. The spout may be 20’ high for a fin whale, and look like columns or puffs of white over the water. If you’re lucky, you might also see surface activity such as kick-feeding (when the whale smacks its tail against the water in a feeding maneuver) or even the sight of a humpback’s open mouth as it lunges up through the water.

When & Where To Go:

Get to the Provincetown, MA area using MA Route 6. Take Route 6 East past Provincetown Center and you'll see signs for Herring Cove, and then Race Point Beach.

April is a good month to try your luck - you can also check out the near real-time right whale detection map to get an idea of how active the waters are when you visit. If there are lots of right whales around, you might see them and likely some other species, too.

Other Ways to Watch Whales On Cape Cod:

If you want the chance to get closer to the whales and learn more about their natural history, you can try a whale watch. Let me know about your experiences watching whales on Cape Cod!
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