Cape Cod Whale Watching

whale spoutWe saw the spouts from far away: distant puffs of water, an array of fountains spurting out messages to anyone who ventured near. We crept closer.

Springtime is feeding time for whales off Cape Cod. They spend the winter in the Caribbean, where they don’t eat, so when they arrive in the spring they’re hungry. The whale watching boat wandered into a feeding frenzy of humpbacks, finbacks, and dolphins. We could see their slick bodies arch above the surface as they dove through the waves. whale surfacingFinback whales are the second largest animals to ever live on Earth. The only animal larger than a finback is a blue whale, which can grow to about 100 feet long. Finbacks are a close second, reaching up to 80 feet.

Humpbacks work together to capture food. One humpback will create underwater bubbles in a donut shape to disorient krill and fish. The prey ends up in the middle, surrounded by bubbles. Then another humpback will surface with an open mouth for a feast. A few daring seagulls might dip in for a fish before the mouth closes. The humpbacks take turns creating bubbles and eating. DSC04012_3Whales can be recognized by their unique patterns. Naturalists onboard keep track of the whales while recording their activities and health conditions. They name the whales and know their habits and companions, so it’s a continuing saga to see what each one is up to.

whale watching boatOn a cold day in May, we saw a humpback teaching her calf how to feed, repeating the steps while the calf mimicked them. A young adult whale showed fresh cuts on his skin from a recent fishing line entanglement.

A hunting moratorium went into effect for humpbacks in 1966 whales archingwhen the population fell by 90 percent. Since then, the population has recovered to around 80,000 worldwide. In April, fisheries managers proposed that they be removed from the endangered species list.

whale tailNorth Atlantic right whales haven’t been so lucky. Today, only about 400 remain in the world, according to the nonprofit organization Defenders of Wildlife.

A hushed quiet and a sense of peace came over us as we watched the whales glide through the water. We could hear their muffled sighs as they came up for air and feel their struggles for survival.

Back in the 1800s when a whale beached, people would run out with knives and buckets for the oil. Now we run to the beach to save the whale. Maybe things have progressed at least a little.

Hyannis Whale Watcher boats cruise by Sandy Neck while going out to Stellwagen Bank where the whales feed. It’s much easier to take pictures of the houses and lighthouse than the constantly moving, appearing and disappearing whales.Sandy Neck, Cape CodSandy Neck, Cape Cod

Humpback whales have been known to sing continuously for up to 24 hours. Whales in the same region all sing the same song and that song gradually changes from year to year. I wonder what their songs will be into the future.

Have you ever been on a whale watch? What do you think of whales?

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76 thoughts on “Cape Cod Whale Watching

  1. We went whale watching off the coast of Maine a few years back. We loved it. Whales always seem so magical to me. I sometimes dream about them. 🙂

    • I’d love to have whale dreams. Whales are so peaceful and calming. It does feel magical for the chance to be near them. They can be pretty playful too – sometimes leaping completely out of the water. We didn’t see anything like that though. I’m glad you had fun on the Maine one!

  2. What great photos, Sheila. I’ve always wanted to go whale watching. I loved reading all the facts you gave. It’s so interesting how the humpback whales work together to disorient the fish.

    • Thanks Letizia! I missed a few good shots since you never know when or where the whales will appear, but it was nice to be near them. The Hyannis Whale Watcher ones are great if you come down here to visit. The boats are small and the naturalists gave us all kinds of facts about the whales. They get excited when they see them too – it’s like they’re greeting old friends.

      • It made me a little jealous that I wasn’t in on all the details of each whale’s life like they were. It almost seemed like an ongoing soap opera out there. 🙂

  3. I was on a whale watch on a cruise excursion once, but we never got to see a feed like that. It’s amazing how they work together to get their meal. Imagine what we humans could do if we followed suit, not just for feeding the population, but in everything else we do too?…

    Great pictures, Sheila, and very interesting to read about. Thank you.

    • That’s true, we could learn a lot from whales. I didn’t realize they worked together like that. They didn’t even mind when the seagulls went for rides on their backs or plucked the fish away!

  4. Hey Sheila its winter here in a couple of days, we love spotting the whales on their way up to the warmer weather up the coast. On their return they are closer to shore with the babies in tow. Its such a treat to see them playing and teaching their young to feed. If they are breaching I am so in awe. Its a pass time we do with my Mum every year and I hope I will keep doing it for years to come with my kids. Truly special. Awesome photo’s by the way.

    • What a wonderful family tradition to watch the whales go and welcome them back like that! It sounds like lots of fun for kids and hopefully they’ll continue the tradition on with their own children. Those whales must seem like old friends to you now. I hope you have a nice, cozy winter with lots of reading by the fire!

  5. Excellent post, Sheila! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. The pictures are magnificent. I’ve never been whale watching, but I’d love to do it one day. Although the sound the whale make when communicating sounds like a lonesome call, I do enjoy it.

    • Thanks Jill – I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual whale watch! It’s a great thing to do if you get the chance. This was only the second time I’ve ever been on one and the first time was way back in high school. It’s amazing seeing them up close and hearing them. I love those sounds too – everything about them seems so peaceful.

  6. That looks so awesome. I’ve never seen a whale yet. We’re always vacationing at the wrong time in the right place…right? Thanks for sharing your pics. That looked like an incredible experience.

    • Those whales are always on the move and they travel over huge distances so that’s true that you have to be in the right place at the right time. It sounds to me like a good reason for you to go to Hawaii again! 🙂

    • I’m glad you could come along! It’s funny that people don’t usually do those kinds of touristy things in the areas where they live. The last time I went on a whale watch was in high school. But it’s fun to be a tourist in your own town every once in a while, especially before the busy season!

  7. Great post, Sheila! You know you’ve always made me smile when the post is about the sea and its delightful creatures. Today you have shown me the whales and someone else had sea otters which I adore. While I haven’t seen a whale in the Mediterranean yet, they are around… There is a museum/wine cave nearby. Inside there is a skeleton of a whale which died in the area back in the 1970’s. It is suspended from the ceiling. There is also a plethora of information on whales available there. Of course they also sell a wine that they make. 🙂

    • The wine cave sounds like fun! It’s nice that they have information on the whales there. There are a few whale bones and skeletons around here too, especially on Nantucket because it was such a big whaling community. Thanks so much – I’m happy for the smiles. I hope your summer will be filled with lots of ocean visits!

      • It really is a sight as they have the entire skeleton suspended from the ceiling as it had been when the whale lived. There are news clippings from when the whale washed up on the local beach and a lot of information on whales in general. Thanks again!

  8. Your photos are wonderful, Sheila, and I love whales along with dolphins. I haven’t been whale watching yet, but it’s on my bucket list. 🙂 ♥

    • Thanks Lauren! It’s a great experience just to be near the whales. They’re so peaceful and sometimes playful like the dolphins. You’ll love it!

  9. What a wonderful experience, thanks for sharing with us, I would love to experience something like this and perhaps try out my own version of whale song to communicate and probably offend.

    • Hahah – making those noises would be a fun experience in itself! I might have to go out there again to try that.

  10. Oh Sheila what a wonderful experience. It’s one of my dreams to go whale watching in Cape Cod one day, specifically to see humpbacks, which are my favourite whales. I’m lucky to have been whale watching before in Europe, where we saw fin whales, pilot whales and lots of dolphins 🙂

    • Humpbacks are here from spring through fall before they go back down south so come on down! They are fun to see and they can be pretty playful. I’m glad you were able to see so many whales out there – the dolphins are always fun too!

  11. I’ve never been whale watching, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do! Thanks for sharing these awesome pictures and info. How long was the whale watching?

    • They’re usually about 3 hours but most of that time is spent with the whales and the time flies when you’re out there. I hope you’ll get to go – it’s a great summertime thing to do – and you’re not too far away!

      • I may have to plan this for next summer. This summer was so insane with the book release. But next summer no release! Woohoo. That means I can play a bit more.

  12. Rad shots, love! Sadly, I haven’t been whale watching yet. But there are many opportunities up here…I just need to get on it!

    Thank you for sharing such a fantastic experience. (Go whales!)

    • Thanks so much – I’m glad you could come along on this one! That’s great that you’re a lot closer to the ocean now than in Milwaukee. I loved your LA post and now I’ll have to get out there too. Hope you had a fun weekend with lots of hiking!

  13. Such magnificent creatures, whale watching is something I haven’t really experienced although they can be seen off the coast of Queensland at certain times of year. Maybe this year I should make the effort 😊

    • That’s so great that you can see them from shore! I’d love to be able to do that. It’s fun in a boat too though. Sometimes they’ll come right up to the boat or breach near it, like they’re playing.

      • I think being on a boat when they’re nearby would be a wonderful experience, seeing from shore is lovely but they are still too far away to get a really good look unless you have binoculars or a telescope.

  14. How timely this is as my husband and I were just talking about possibly going on a whale watch! I’ve always wanted to see the whales and what fantastic captures you got! They are such fascinating creatures!

    • I hope this convinced you into it! I’m sure your photos will be much better. I missed some good shots but it’s hard to know where and when they’ll appear. The naturalist on board usually announces it a couple minutes beforehand so that helps, but then the whales can be pretty fast. It made me wish I had brought a video camera because they’re always in motion. Have fun and say hello to the whales for me!

    • Thanks so much – I missed some good shots but you never know when they’ll appear out of the water. I loved just being near them though!

  15. Some years back we went on whale-watching trips in Washington State, Maine, and in Monterrey Bay. I’ll always remember how everyone was hoping to see gray whales in Monterrey Bay. What we stumbled upon instead was a pod of Orcas eating a baby gray whale. That must’ve been tough for the parents on board to explain to their children. It was Nature in action, but not easy to watch!

    • That must have been something to see! It would be funny to see the reactions from people onboard too. Nature is always teaching us and showing us all sides of life. That’s great that you were able to go on whale watches from all over the country. It would be interesting to see the differences (though I’m not so sure about getting too close to those orcas now)!

  16. Great shots and yes I have been whale watching many times off of the coats of Washington out at Westport. Every time I see one of these amazing creatures my heart is filled with awe.

    • That’s exactly what it was like – awe inspiring, peaceful and magical. I’ll have to try the west coast ones sometime to compare. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and visit!

  17. I went on a whale watch a long time ago. I would love to go again, but I get seasick sometimes — not all the time, so it’s always a gamble if I go on trips like that. We’re lucky to have some whale-watching trips available in the Portsmouth/Rye area. Your pics are great!

    • Thanks Kate! The possible seasickness part can be tricky. We were lucky it was pretty calm out there but you never know what can happen when you’re surrounded by whales that are larger than the boat. 🙂

  18. One of my sons used to work for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the UK and was sent across to work for a while near Boston. He came back with video and photographs of humpback and other whales – quite amazing.

    • That’s great that your son was able to do something like that for work! I wonder if he saw some of the same humpbacks out there. It seems like video is the way to go with whales when they’re always moving and dipping back down into the water. It can be mesmerizing to watch them.

      • Think weight of camera and movement of boat made it quite difficult. Out of lots of footage, he only got a fairly small amount that was usable.

      • That would be a challenge on a bouncing boat! We were lucky to have calmer waters. After a while of picture taking, I ended up putting the camera away to just enjoy them.

    • That must have been fun to see so many dolphins together like that. I can imagine them leaping and playing. I’m happy to hear the whales are on your bucket list too! They can be as playful as the dolphins but when they leap out of the water there’s much more of a splash.

  19. I recently went whale watching in New Zealand, but I didn’t know that you could also do it in the US. That’s great news! Thanks for sharing and thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

    • It’s nice to hear that the humpbacks are rebounding so far – there were a lot of them out there. I hope you had fun on your whale watching trip and thank you for visiting!

    • Thanks Meg! I’m glad you had fun on the virtual whale watch. I loved your Italy photos so thank you for bringing me back there for a while!

  20. What a great post! Humpback whales are my favorite animals. I went whale watching off of Cape Cod many times as a kid – on my first excursion we saw a right whale calf that swam alongside our boat waving and putting on a show! I haven’t been in years but I hope to take my kids someday soon.

    • That’s great that they’re your favorite! They can put on a good show. That’ll be nice to introduce your kids to them and to something you did when you were their age. It sounds like a perfect family tradition.

  21. Oooh lucky you. By chance I have recently finished reading Phillip Hoare’ s book ‘Leviathan’ so it was great to see some of the landscape and whales in the book! If you’ve not read it I thoroughly recommend it – fascinating and very moving.

    • I haven’t read it but I’ll have to now – thank you! I hope you’ve been able to enjoy lots of sunny days this summer.

      • Haha no – but I can laugh because it’s sunny this afternoon and I’ve been working in the garden. Got soaked dog walking this morning but half a day’s summer is better than none 😉

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