Best time to travel to New Jersey

Whale & Dolphin Watching in New Jersey

In southern New Jersey, you can observe several sea mammal species next to the shore

Best time: March–December (best in June–September)

Whale & Dolphin Watching
Whale & Dolphin Watching
Whale & Dolphin Watching
The ocean water churns and explodes as a humpback whale lunges through a school of fish in Highlands, NJ
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New Jersey may not be as famous for its whale watching as northern states along the New England coast, but it does offer a decent chance to spot many cetaceans off its coast. Whales start to arrive in New Jersey waters in large numbers in the fall as they migrate from Canada to warmer waters near Florida and the Caribbean. In the spring, you can see them when they head back. Humpback, fin, and minke whales are seen most often. In recent years, many juvenile whales have been spotted along the Jersey Shore over the summer. There's a theory that young whales prefer to stay in New Jersey waters rich with nutrients rather than head north where they have to compete for food resources with older whales. Jersey Shore is also known as a hotspot for dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common here during the summer. White-sided, striped, and short-beaked dolphins are also abundant.

Best places for whale watching

Dolphin and whale watching tours depart from Atlantic City, Cape May, Avalon, Belmar and Wildwoods. Dolphin voyages are usually closer to the shore, while to spot whales you have to go as far as 40 km (25 mi) into the ocean. Delaware Bay is especially rich with plankton and krill so many whales flock there to feed on it.

Whale Watching Tours

Whale-watching tours in South Jersey have a success rate of 90%. Many operators offer a free pass on another cruise within a year if there are no whale sightings on your cruise. Some of the largest cruise operators are located in Cape May, like Cape May Whale Watcher. It operates large vessels, able to carry over 200 people, with restrooms, a galley, undercover outdoor seating for over 150 passengers as well as an enclosed climate-controlled cabin. Jersey Shore Whale Watch also operates 120-ft boats from Belmar Marina throughout summer and fall. Tours last for about 3.5 hours along the shore line of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Dolphin cruises are popular in Atlantic City with Atlantic City Cruises, while The Starlight Fleet operates in Wildwood. Dolphin sightings are guaranteed, and on-board naturalists help identify marine creatures and birds like northern fulmer and long-tailed jaeger. Most tours last from two to three and a half hours and offer information about marine life in South Jersey. Many boats serve food and beverages on-board. Ticket prices vary between $40-$50 for an adult.

Whale-watching season

The truth is that New Jersey waters are a home for some number of humpback whales year-round since it doesn't get too cold here. So whales can be spotted in New Jersey at any time. However, due to the arrival of migrational whales and dolphins, the chances to spot cetaceans grow significantly larger during the spring and fall months. Generally, whale and dolphin watching season in New Jersey runs from March to December, and the peak time to go on a sea excursion is from June to September. The high season starts with the arrival of beach-goers to the Jersey Shore as well as due to warmer temperatures that make sea excursions more pleasant.

Humpback whales

Humpbacks are spotted most often along the Jersey Shore. These whales are known for their playful behavior. Even though whale-watching cruises are banned from getting to a whale closer than 100 ft (30 m), when the boats shut down their engines and stop, humpbacks often get close and put on a show demonstrating some flips and dives. This behavior is called breaching. Many humpback whales just pass New Jersey waters on their way to summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine, however, a large population of juvenile humpbacks has been staying off the New Jersey coast throughout summer and fall as well. Humpback whales that can reach 55 ft (16 m) in length are recognized due to a black and white pattern on their belly. Humpbacks are famous for their "songs" that can last for up to 20 minutes in length.

Fin whales

Fin whales are the second largest whale species and can be recognized by a strange asymmetrical coloring, especially on their head. Their right lower jaw seems white, while the left lower jaw is dark grey. With a length of 85 ft (25 m) they prefer deeper waters. Fin whales can live up to 90 years. They are often spotted along the Jersey Shore in groups of two or more, sometimes together with dolphins.

Minke whales

Minke whales are the smallest whale species seen along the Jersey Shore. Minke has a sleek body reaching 30 ft (9 m) in length and a pointed head. It can be seen not just in the open ocean but also in bays and harbors. Minke moves very fast, which makes it harder to spot. They are not very social but sometimes can be spotted in groups of two. Minke whales live for about 40 years. They have earned a nickname “Stinky Minkes” because of the bad odor of their spouting.

Right whales

North Atlantic right whales are among the world's most endangered sea mammals. Their population is just about 300 individuals. These whales live up to 70 years and reach 52 ft (16 m) in length. They have no dorsal fin, their bodies are black with white patches on the head. Right whales migrate along the Jersey Shore during spring and fall but are spotted rather rarely.

Whale-watching tips

Weather conditions or time of the day has little importance during whale watching since these sea mammals come to the surface to breathe at any time. However, you can better spot whales on a clear day when the sea is calm. In the mornings, there are usually fewer waves. But most whale-watching cruises depart in midday when the weather is warmer. Some of the best pictures can be taken during the magic hour right before and after the sunset.

What to wear

Even though it might be beach weather on the Jersey Shore, keep in mind that it could be 10 degrees colder out in the ocean so make sure to bring a warm sweater or a jacket. It's best to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes on rubber soles.

What to take with you

Water and food are usually served on vessels so there is no need to pack a lot of snacks. However, make sure to take a sunhat, sunscreen and sunglasses. If you have binoculars, they will surely help as well. If you suffer from motion sickness, make sure to take your medicine before the cruise.

Where to stay

The Jersey Shore boasts dozens of excellent beachfront hotels for any budget. If you are looking for entertainment and bustling nightlife, choose Ocean City or Atlantic City. If you prefer a quieter place, Cape May offers many Victorian-era inns that boast unique architecture and atmosphere.

Practical info

When is the best time to go whale watching in New Jersey?

From March to December, New Jersey offers a rich and diverse whale-watching season. In June to September, the season is at its peak. However, throughout spring and fall, the migrational pattern of whales and dolphins offers the best opportunity to catch sight of these marine mammals in New Jersey. Although some humpback whales reside in New Jersey year-round as the temperature is not too cold, the season is at its peak in June to September. Show more

Where are the best places to go whale watching in New Jersey?

Atlantic City, Cape May, Avalon, Belmar, and Wildwoods are the popular whale-watching destinations with a chance of sighting dolphins voyages close to the shore, while whales can be found up to 25 mi (40 km) away from the shore. There is an abundance of krill and plankton in Delaware Bay, which invites many whales to feed on it, which may increase the chances of sighting them. Show more

What types of whales are commonly spotted along the Jersey Shore?

Humpback, minke, and fin whales are the most commonly seen whales in New Jersey's waters. Humpback whales are known for being playful with whale-watching boats, even getting close sometimes. Fin whales, the second-largest whale species, can usually be spotted in deeper waters, while minke whales, the smallest whale species, have a sleek body and can be found both in open oceans and bays. The right whale is a very rare sight despite its migrational pattern in spring and fall, with only an estimated 300 whales in existence. Show more

What specific behaviors are humpback whales known for along the Jersey Shore?

Humpback whales are famous for being playful with whale-watching boats, even though boats cannot approach them within 30m (100ft). Humpback whales sing songs that can last for up to 20 minutes, and they often breach, which means they jump out of the water. The distinctive black and white pattern on their belly makes humpbacks easy to identify. Although most humpback whales migrate in fall and spring from Canada to warmer waters, a considerable number of juvenile humpbacks live year-round off the New Jersey coast. Show more

What is the best attire to wear when going on a whale-watching cruise?

Wear long pants and closed-toed shoes with rubber soles to ensure maximum safety on board whale-watching boats. The temperature is often colder out on the ocean than it is on the Jersey Shore, so bringing along a warm sweater or jacket is advisable. Remember to carry sunscreen, a sunhat, and sunglasses as protection from the sun. While water and food are typically provided, those with motion sickness should bring their medication before the cruise. Show more

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Last updated: by Olha Savych