Whale Watching on Cape Ann: A Summertime Must


Thousands of tourists vacation on Cape Ann every summer. One of the most popular activities enjoyed by visitors to our community is whale watching.

Visitors can taste the salty air as they cruise out of beautiful Gloucester harbor past jetties, lighthouses and even a historical castle on the way to Stellwagen Bank, home to many kinds of wildlife, including the beloved Humpback Whale.

Gloucester is located eight miles from Stellwagen Bank, a National Marine Sanctuary and even closer is Jeffreys Ledge, and Tillies Bank, all prime whale feeding grounds. Gloucester is the ideal place to whale watch because of its proximity to these fertile feeding grounds. Gloucester’s whale watch companies are the only ones in New England who can easily reach these feeding grounds on any given trip.

The ledges and banks of these feeding grounds create a rich and productive marine habitat that attracts numerous species of whales. Whale watching season on Cape Ann begins when the whales return to Cape Ann in early May, seeking our rich offshore waters, and ends sometime in early November, weather permitting.

Each of Gloucester’s whale watching companies hosts an onboard naturalist to help identify the whales and describe their behaviors. All are committed to education and environmental awareness and all guarantee whale sightings. Every journey is unforgettable and awe-inspiring, from the first sighting of a breaching whale to the voyage home. A narrated tour of historic Gloucester Harbor is included on every trip.

Minke, Sei, Northern Right and Finback whales are regularly seen off Gloucester, but the beloved Humpbacks are the whale watchers’ favorites. Rolling, tail slapping, breaching, even playing with the whale watch boats are everyday activities for these majestic beauties. Mothers bring their new calves to Cape Ann’s feeding grounds to teach them to hunt and feed. The Humpback whales that return each year are among the world’s most thoroughly researched whale populations. Naturalists have been tracking them off Cape Ann for years.

Other species of whales and sea life that may be seen while whale watching include:

  • Sperm Whale
  • North Atlantic Right Whale (extremely endangered)
  • Long-finned Pilot Whale
  • Beluga (White Whale)
  • Harbor Porpoise
  • Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
  • White-Beaked Dolphin
  • Common Dolphin
  • Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Grampus (Rizzo’s Dolphin)
  • Sea Turtles
  • Basking Sharks
  • Blue Sharks

For bird lovers, these bird species are often seen:

  • Gulls & Terns
  • Shearwaters and Petrels
  • Jaegers and Skies
  • Northern Fulmar
  • Wayward Land Migrants

Here are a few hints to help you enjoy your trip: Don’t pack anything larger than a daypack. You won’t want to keep track of a large bag while trying to watch whales. Boats do have heated cabins where you warm up and can buy snacks, but you will want to be out on the deck were the whales are! Wear sensible shoes or sneakers for good traction on the decks. During early April, May and June ocean temperatures are still very cold and any breeze over the ocean can make it uncomfortable if you’re not dressed appropriately. Even gloves are a good idea. During July and August don’t forget your sunglasses, sunblock and a sweater or light jacket. It can be 10-20 degrees cooler offshore. It is also a good idea to make advance reservations during July and August. And most importantly don’t forget your camera!