Best time to travel to Boston

Whale Watching in Boston

Cruising in Boston Harbor is even more enjoyable when your companions are whales, dolphins, and seabirds

Best time: April–October

Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Whale Watching

Massachusetts Bay is one of the best places on the planet to encounter whales. In just a one-hour trip into the ocean, one can see humpbacks, minkes, and fins, along with pods of white-sided dolphins that come here to feast on small fish, plankton, and krill. The large sea mammals migrate to New England for the warmer time of the year and can be spotted from spring into the fall months.

Best place for whale watching

Most whale-watching cruises head to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, one of the biggest feeding grounds for whales. This underwater 19-mi (31-km) plateau attracts over 100 fish species, including the Atlantic cod, bass, blue-fin, and yellow-fin tuna, and even the great white shark. In the summer, it is home and nursing territory for several whale species. The sanctuary, which occupies the area of 842 sq. mi (2181 sq. km), is located 25 mi (40 km) east of Boston.

Whale-watching tours

Regular whale-watching tours operate out of Boston Harbor. Boats depart from Long Warf a few times per day and take tourists to various locations, about 35 km (22 mi) off shore, including Stellwagen Bank. The harbor operates large catamarans that have the capacity to board up to 400 passengers and travel at speeds of 35 knots (37.5 mph). Tours last from 3.5 to 4 hours. The vessel has restrooms and a galley with food and drinks. There are 3 outside decks, a climate-controlled cabin with cushioned seating, tables, and screens. Tickets cost $60 for an adult. The New England Aquarium also offers whale-watching excursions that depart from Central Wharf in Boston. Visitors can buy combination tickets through Boston Harbor Cruises or at the New England Aquarium Whale Watch booth. There are also many whale-watching tour operators in Massachusetts, located north and south of Boston

Whale-watching season

Whales start to migrate to New England water as early as March and leave in late November, however, regular whale watching tours in Boston run from April into October. During spring and fall months, there are usually three or four tours per day, while during high summer season, their number increases to eight. Sunset cruises are available from mid-June to early September.

Humpback whales

Humpbacks are the most frequently spotted whales off the Massachusetts coast. The sightings for these species reach over 90% on whale-watching tours. Being quite large in length (55 ft or 16 m), humpbacks are quite playful leaping out of the water, and putting on a show. Humpbacks usually spend winter close to Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. These whales have patterns on their flukes that are absolutely unique to each individual. Stellwagen Marine Sanctuary has been tracking 50 humpback whales for years to study and learn about their behavior.

Fin whales

Fin Whales are also quite common in Massachusetts. Being the second largest animal on earth, these gentle giants have a body length of 85 ft (25 m). They prefer cooler temperatures and can be spotted during fall months. Fin whales are rather shy so it's not easy to get a glimpse of them. They have unique asymmetrical body color and patterns on a fin's right side. In the winter fin whales travel to the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Bahamas.

Minke whales

One of the smaller whales, minke is reaching 30 ft (9 m) in length. Minke whales are quite common and are seen on 75% of the Boston Harbor trips. Minke are usually spotted in the choppy waves weather. They can be identified by two white stripes on their pectoral fins called “Minke mittens”.

North Atlantic right whales

Right whales are very rare in Massachusetts as they are among the most endangered sea mammals in the worl. North Atlantic right whale population is about 300 individuals. You will be really lucky to see one of these amazing creatures. Right whales live up to 70 years and reach 52 ft (16 m) in length. They have a black body, and white patches on the head, but are missing a dorsal fin.

Whale-watching tips

Time of day and weather have don't make a huge difference on a whale-watching trip. However, a tour can get canceled in case of a storm or really bad weather. Even when it's raining, whales come to the surface to breathe so it's possible;le to see them. However, foggy weather could make your excursion less pleasant. In the morning, the sea is calmer which generally gives a better chance to spot mammals. In the afternoon you can get better lighting for your photos, especially during the sunset. If you plan to use any internet-depending gadgets on your trip, keep in mind that the signal gets really weak off shore.

What to bring with you

Binoculars or a camera with a good zoom will definitely come in handy to help get a better whale-watching experience. Also, sunglasses, sunhat and sunscreen can be useful, especially if you travel around midday. You can pack some water and snacks, however, you don't have to because boats have a galley with food and beverages. Make sure to take some cash for the snacks since they don't always accept credit cards.

What to wear

It might be quite warm in Boston, but once you get 35 km (22 mi) off shore, it gets chilly and windy too. So it's advised to take a jacket or a warm sweater on your whale-watching trip. Shoes with rubber soles and closed toes is a must. Do not wear flip-flops. The boats are quite large and stable so they rarely provoke motion sickness. However, if you suffer from seasickness, make sure to bring some medicine just in case.

Where to stay

Boston Harbor has a wide variety of hotels, from big name to cozy small inns. There is something for every taste and budget. Check out the options below.

Practical info

When can visitors spot whales in Boston?

Whale-watching tours in Boston are usually available between April and October, with the most opportune months being June to September. However, there may be sightings of migrating whales during other months. Summer months have up to eight tours per day, so visitors have a better chance of spotting whales then. With whales migrating as early as March, visitors may be lucky enough to witness this natural spectacle out of season. Show more

Which whale species is common in Boston?

Most people on whale-watching tours in Massachusetts witness Humpback whales, with 90% of sightings being of this species. These whales are 55 ft (16 m) in length and are known for leaping from the water. Each Humpback whale has a unique pattern on its flukes. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary studies 50 such Humpback whales for behavioral and protective purposes. These mammals are mighty creatures and awe-inspiring to watch. Show more

What is the preferred whale-watching location in Boston?

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is the most preferred location for whale watching in Boston. It is an underwater plateau of around 19-mi (31-km) that serves as a feeding ground to over 100 species of fish, including blue-fin, bass, Atlantic cod, yellow-fin tuna, and even the great white shark. This location, situated 25 mi (40 km) east of Boston, draws whale-watching tours from Boston Harbor and New England Aquarium and offers the best perspective of watching whales in their natural habitat. Show more

Which items are recommended to bring on a whale watching tour?

Visitors on a whale-watching tour in Boston should carry sunscreen, sunglasses, a sunhat, a camera with zoom, and binoculars to capture the experience from the boat's view. Tours offer food and beverage options but it is best to take your own snacks and water. Wearing rubber-soled, closed-toe shoes is recommended, and jackets or warm sweaters help during cooler weather. Preparing for the trip thoroughly with these items can help visitors enjoy the experience to the fullest. Show more

What are the chances of observing the North Atlantic right whale in Boston?

Mammals on the verge of extinction, the North Atlantic right whale spotting chances are slim in Boston. Only 300 are believed to make up the existing population, which makes them rare to spot. These whales have a black body and white head patches but are missing dorsal fins. Sighting of these magnificent creatures is quite rare, but when seen, a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Witnessing the North Atlantic right whale in Boston is an event that shouldn't be missed! Show more

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