Looking for good spots for whale watching tours in New England?
Humpback whales, Fin whales, North Atlantic right whales, Blue whales, Minke whales, are some of the most spectacular marine life that can be seen on the waters of New England. The region of New England boasts without a doubt, one of the best viewing areas in the world where you can see these majestic mammals and other wonderful wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles and basking sharks.
The whale watching season in New England runs between March and October, though July/ August is probably the best time to be in New England to spot whales. Below, you have a list of some of the best places to whale watch in New England as well as some tips for whale watching:
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Massachusetts Bay
Stellwagen Sanctuary is without question, the prime spot for whale watch in New England as it’s primarily the feeding ground for humpback whales who love to congregate on the sanctuary’s shallow waters. The depth of the waters is around 110 feet so you get the best opportunity at seeing whales surfacing behavior such as breaching, bubble net and lunge feeding.
By the way, it’s also worth pointing out that ALL whale watches departing from the coast of Massachusetts (including Cape Cod) go to Stellwagen Sanctuary. Therefore, you're choosing a location out of convenience, though the best location for whale watching in Massachusetts is out of Boston Harbor because of the variety of whale watch boats, rates and schedules on offer.
Rye Harbor, New Hampshire
The waters off the coast of New Hampshire are also home to fantastic variety of whale species, including the ever elusive North Atlantic right whale. There's only being a handful of recorded right whale sightings and most of them happened off the coast of Rye Harbor, which is another reason many tourists book whale watching tours off Rye in the first place.
Rye Harbour is beautiful and it's very easy to reach along Route 1A (right between Hampton Salt March Conservation Area and Odiorne Point State Park, and about 15 minutes drive from Portsmouth).
The main whale watching companies departing out of Rye are Granite State Whale Watch and Atlantic Whale Watch which charge around $38 per person.
Galilee, Narragansett Bay
Narragansett may not be on the radar of many whale watch enthusiasts but it’s also a top whale watching spot in New England. Galilee also happens to be the only place in Rhode Island where you can enjoy whale watching tours.
The whale watching company “Frances Fleet” runs their fleet out of Galilee between July and August and charges around $45 per trip.
Lubec/ Eastport Area, Northern Maine
Lubec and Eastport are, by far, the most underrated places to whale watch in New England. The beauty about traveling to Lubec (particularly) is that you can watch whales just off-shore at West Quoddy state park on Campobello Island (Canada) without the need of a boat.
There are, of course, whale watching companies you can use if you want to take a closer look. Lubec and Eastport whale watch companies include the “Inn on the Wharf”, “Downeast Charter Boat Tours” and “Eastport Windjammers”, which charge between $38 and $45 per person.
Whale Watching & Photography Tips
Seeing a whale swim under your boat and performing air acrobatics is most certainly one of the most thrilling experiences in the world. However, it pays to know what to expect to make a whale watching trip a success. A few things to consider are as folows:
1. Book a whale watching tour with a whale watching company that has a good reputation. Most whale watching companies offer a money-back guarantee (or similar) if you don’t get to spot a whale on the day.
2. Wear the right gear. Things like non-slip shoes, rain jacket, sunscreen and layers are essential for a comfortable whale watching experience.
3. Carry seasickness pills. Rough seas don’t make for a great whale watch experience, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness. Even on a calm day, the open sea tends to make most people sick. To avoid this, you could take non-drowsy seasickness meds like Bonine and Dramamine, or drink some good old ginger drink before hand (works every time!).
4. Check the weather. Weather prediction isn’t an exact science but if you want to avoid the disappointment of choppy weather it’s best you buy whale watching tickets the day of the trip so you can check the weather.
5. Bring a good camera. The Canon 60AD (35 mm) camera with a 70-300mm lens is one of the best cameras to use for capturing really nice shots. As far as best camera settings for whale watching, you should turn on spot metering, auto ISO and AV mode. Also, you want to set the focus drive motor to full and turn off the insight light camera (IS) for better shots.
Besides whale watching off the coast of Massachusetts, Rye Harbor NH, Narragansett RI, Portland ME and Bar Harbor ME you won’t find organized whale watches out of Connecticut. The reason being is that whale sightings on Connecticut's waters are uncommon. Whales prefer the colder waters found further up in New England.
As far as Maine, there are whale watching trips out of Portland and Bar Harbor (southern Maine) but they’re very long whale watching trips since they also travel to the Stellwagen Bank, which takes as long as 90 minutes at high speed. If you’re the type that tends to get queasy on long boat trips it’s a good idea to avoid booking whale watches out of Portland or Maine because you won’t really enjoy the experience!
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