When Is the Best Time
Boston, the capital city of Massachusetts, is a vibrant city with lots of activities. One of the most popular and Must-Do is whale watching from Boston harbour. Boston and entire New England are some of the best places to spot whales in the US. The reason for an almost 100 % guarantee of sightings in the nearby Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Thanks to this huge, more than 800 square miles protected area, you spot humpbacks, finback whales, dolphins, and so much more in abundance.
Humpback whales migrate to the sanctuary close to Boston, Massachusetts, in spring and back in autumn. Finbacks are mostly found in deep waters 20 km distance from the coast. They occur at Stellwagen throughout the year.
The best time for a whale watching tour is from May to October. It is almost guaranteed to spot humpbacks, occasionally finbacks, and frequently dolphins.
Best Day Time
Usually, the sea is calmer in the morning and a bit choppy in the afternoon; however, exceptions occur—waves build-up by the wind. Therefore, if seasickness is an issue for you, definitely book the first tour in the morning. These tours are usually less busy than during the day the other pro. Advanced booking is recommended, especially this year; due to COVID19 restrictions a limited capacity on the boats exists.
Whale Watching Season and Weather
The whale watching season starts already at the end of March. However, this is not the time I recommend. April improves a little with more humpbacks, finbacks, and white-sided dolphin sightings. On all those whale watching tours, you frequently spot different dolphin species, and sometimes rare sightings occur like orcas, blue whales (the naturalist told Markus one in 30 years only), sperm whales, sunfish or a basking shark.
Pilot whales appear later in the season. Minke whales and harbour porpoises are often mentioned for specific months, but honestly, these cetaceans are shy and usually, you don’t see much of them from my own experience. I try to give you an idea of what you may see on such whale watching trips.
Finally, temps increase and reach 68°F/20°C during the day. The first humpbacks, especially mothers and their newborn calves, arrive in the Stellwagen Sanctuary. Fin whale sightings often increase in small groups. A wind and a rainproof jacket is well needed on the boat.
Summer arrived with average temps of 77°F/25°C; however, don’t underestimate the wind on board the whale watching boat. The chance to spot humpbacks is almost guaranteed. Also, finback sightings occur, but they have a high travel speed.
Decreasing precipitation and warm temperatures above 80°F/27°C. This is one of the very best months to see a huge number of humpbacks. However, keep in mind the summer is the busiest time of the year, and advanced bookings are recommended to avoid disappointment. To spot breaching humpbacks with their entire body is always fascinating.
Pilot Whales are very social, occurring in huge pods - sightings are rare; common in Tarifa and the Canary Islands
August is also a lovely summer month with excellent humpback sightings, occasional finback, and the first rare pilot whale sightings. The pilot whales are night-active, resting during the day on the surface, which increases the chance for a sighting. This is a super busy month book your whale watching trip in advance!
Autumn will arrive soon. Temperatures drop already, being slightly above 72°F/22°C. This is still a great month for humpbacks, occasional finbacks and pilot whales.
Autumn arrived temps are below 64°F/18°C, and precipitation increases slightly. It is still a good time to spot whales on a trip, but fewer. Humpbacks start to migrate, leaving Stellwagen Bank. Finbacks can be found in New England throughout the year; occasional sightings until November.
Whale Watching Tour
The duration of the whale watching tours depends on the weather and wind and also on the sightings. It usually takes 3.5-4 hours. The vessel is a high-speed catamaran which makes this a comfortable journey until you reach Stellwagen Bank 25 miles east of Boston. A marine biologist will answer all your questions and shares his/her knowledge with you about the cetaceans on your tour. Watching whales up close, perhaps breaching, is always a fascinating experience. More than one million people go on a whale watching trip from Boston, the reason the trips are likely to be sold out days in advance.
The boats depart from One Long Wharf, Boston, MA 02110 Google Maps Link
3 Must-Do Activities in Boston | Besides Whale Watching
The famous Boston New England Aquarium is situated to the right within walking distance from the harbor. Spend an entire day here first in the morning the stunning whale watching trip, seafood lunch in of the excellent restaurants, and afterwards a visit to the outstanding aquarium.
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
The entire whale watching cruise from Boston is an experience. It starts with an excellent view of the Boston skyline; you pass by historic lighthouses and the Boston Harbor Islands State Park with your catamaran.
The Geology of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
What makes this sanctuary so special?
Stellwagen Bank is an underwater plateau stretching 19 miles. It is much deeper around the plateau. This causes deep water currents to rise upwards, containing nutrition and minerals. This attracts all kinds of fish species even blue and yellow-fin tuna, codfish and, sharks. Because of its importance for marine life, it became a protected zone, a National Marine Sanctuary in 1992.
8 Top Tips for Whale Watching from Boston
- Go in the morning to experience a calmer sea, especially if you suffer from seasickness.
- If you like to get the first tour in the morning, it is most convenient to stay close to the harbor in Downtown Boston. The Boston Harbor Hotel is perfectly located next to Long One Wharf, where the trips depart.
- If you suffer from seasickness, don't go under deck. Stay outside, scan the ocean, and breathe deep. Most important, don't skip breakfast. The acid in your stomach makes the seasickness worse without a proper and healthy breakfast before.
- Throughout the whale season is an additional jacket also needed in summer! Stay warm - don't get cold, which can easily happen while standing. It is at least 10 degrees colder out on the sea.
- Always carry a bottle of water; don't get dehydrated. And it would be a pity if you line up to buy a bottle while a humpback is breaching.
- Sun protection; hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, the sun is even more intense on the sea.
- Comfortable shoes with good traction are best for a moving vessel.
- A camera with an excellent lens for awesome memories.
13 Finback Whale Facts
- Finbacks are mostly found in deep offshore waters, diving deep up to 1.500 feet / 450 m for approximately 15 minutes.
- They are common east of Cape Cod and east of Boston and Cape Ann.
- Finbacks have a high travel speed being one of the fasted cetaceans with at least 25 mph/40 kmh.
- Their main diet is fish; herring and mackerel, crustaceans, squid - filtering mouthfuls of water.
- This baleen whale species migrate in groups.
- Lifespan of 80-90 years.
- Weight at least 40 tons.
- Finbacks are the second-largest animal after the blue whale. The average size ranges from 22-26 m /72-85 feet. Females are slightly larger.
- Females get one calf after 11-12 months. Calves are born in warmer waters in tropical and subtropical waters measuring 21 feet/ 6.5 m and weighing already more than one ton.
- They are still endangered because of the commercial whaling until 1977. The number of finbacks was significantly reduced until whaling got prohibited.
- Finbacks have two blowholes in the middle with a 5-meter high blow.
- They can dive deep up to 450 meters for approximately 15 minutes.
- As already mentioned finbacks are shy and fast therefore difficult to spot.
11 Humpback Whale Facts
- Average lifespan 45-50 years
- Length of 14 up to 19 meters - 46 up to 68 feet
- Weight 25-30 tons on average max. 40 tons
- They can dive up to 200 meters / 656 feet being underwater on average for 15 minutes.
- Newborn calf weight one ton
- Feeding on small fish like sardines, herrings, mackerel, krill, plankton
- Humpbacks are baleen whales which are filter feeders.
- They are famous for their whale song especially during the mating season in tropical waters.
- The humpbacks at Stellwagen migrate to the Caribbean roughly 1.500 miles / 2.400 km in the winter for mating and to give birth.
- Humpbacks are playful. but it is still not clear why humpbacks breach.
- Spotting humpbacks at Stellwagen is almost guaranteed at least 90 %.
Markus went on a business trip to Boston, and I booked this wonderful whale watching trip for him. We have the copyright for these pictures.