For the longest time now (since the movie “Free Willy” was released), I’ve wanted to go whale watching. They’re one of my favorite animals and I always thought it would be nice to see them in the wild. I came close in Alaska, but not quite. To be fair, I didn’t go on a whale watching tour, but I did do a boat ride along Prince William Sound. We were told we may seem some whales, so I got my hopes up. We actually did see one, but it was very quick and it was as the whale was diving into the water. Since then, a whale watching trip has been on my “must do” list.
I finally got my chance over Labor Day weekend in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
I went with Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises and I have to say honestly say that entire experience, from beginning to end, was nothing short of amazing. Based on what I’ve researched before my trip, it seems that they have a pretty high success rate of whale sightings. Of course, this is never a sure thing. They are, after all, wild animals and sightings can be unpredictable, but they do their best to make sure your experience is the best it can be. And this may have been the only whale watching tour I’ve been on, but it seemed that this particular outing was truly exceptional.
The entire trip takes anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours. Approximately two hours of this time is travel time, and the other two hours is whale watching time. Of course, this will vary by trip, weather, where the whales are, and so on. There are multiple decks, so there is plenty of viewing space for everyone.
After the vessel departs from Barnstable, it travels up the coast through Cape Cod Bay, offering picturesque views of some of Massachusetts’s most beautiful coastal towns. It finally passes by Race Point before entering the Massachusetts Bay, which is where the whales are.
What’s great about any type of wildlife encounter is you never know what you will see or what will happen. For example, on one of their previous trips, they spotted a blue shark! How cool is that? Now, we didn’t get to see any sharks, unfortunately. But it was only a matter of moments after entering the Massachusetts Bay before we spotted a pair of Humpback Whales.
For the next two hours, we saw several whales. The staff used onboard PAs to let us know when a whale surfaced and where we could look. It was actually a bit humorous at times: we’d all be on one side of the boat and the whales would dive under, and then they’d announce that they were on the other side of the boat and we’d all scramble to get there as quickly as possible. This back and forth shuffle happened pretty often, and there were a couple times where I decided to just stick to one side of the ship because it was only a matter of time before they’d return to that side anyways.
It was quite impressive that the onboard staff knew all of the humpback whales and their names. During this trip, we saw Clipper, Valley, Nine, and their calves. We also learned a lot of interesting humpback whale facts; for instance, the white in their flippers have a bright green glow when they’re underwater, which can make it easy to spot them.
Some of the whales were quite playful; we even saw some spyhopping. I thought to myself how amazing it would be to see a whale breaching (jumping out of the water). Of course, it was while I was in the restroom that another whale surfaced, and I heard the announcer explain that the activity was called breaching. Seriously? This had to happen NOW?
I quickly rushed out and luckily, the humpback was still putting on his performance for us. I’m lucky I got to see it, but the moral of the story? Try to hold it in if you can – you might miss something amazing. But overall, I’d guess everyone was satisfied with this tour and got to see plenty of humpback whales. I was tempted to run around the boat and do this:
Also, be sure to check out this video of some of the trip’s highlights, taken by Joanne M Jarzobski.
Tip: BRING BINOCULARS! If you have a camera with a great zoom lens, that will obviously suffice, but otherwise, you’ll definitely want the binoculars.
All of the whale photos were taken by Joe Butch.
Essential Travel Information
Getting to Cape Cod: If you’re flying in, Cape Cod is a short drive from Boston’s airport. Unlike the nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, no ferry is necessary, but the bridge that leads into Cape Cod can get very congested during certain hours, so plan accordingly.
Lodging: It’s common to rent a house while you’re in Cape Cod, and HomeAway and FlipKey has some good options. Our trip was extremely last minute so we just booked a hotel. If you’d prefer a hotel, some top choices include The Mansion at Ocean Edge, Red Jacket Beach Resort, and Crowne Pointe Historic Inn & Spa
When to go: Whale watching season is typically April through October.
Road tripping it? Car rentals: Discounts with Fox Rent A Car
Making your reservations: Hyannis Whale Watchers