10 Massachusetts whale and shark tours to do this summer
The waters off the coast of Massachusetts teem with marine life. White sharks with names like Heath Ledger and Fruit Loops swim daily near popular Cape Cod beaches. In Boston Harbor and off Plymouth, whales have spent the past few weeks splashing around and sometimes sailing through the air.
Seeing photos of colossal fish and mammals can be awe-inspiring. Seeing creatures up close is something else entirely.
Whale watching has been a popular excursion for decades, taking the public to the high seas in search of whales in their natural habitat. But as sharks – notably great white sharks, also known as great white sharks – have increased in population and importance over the past few decades, shark tours have increasingly attracted visitors hoping to spot the predators at toothy.
These 10 shark and whale tours are all taking place in Massachusetts this summer.
Run in partnership with Boston Harbor City Cruises, New England Aquarium whale watching departs Boston for Stellwagen Bank.
The 840 square mile reserve, New England’s only national marine sanctuary, sits between Cape Ann and Cape Cod and is a great place to watch whales in their natural habitat. The area is home to critically endangered humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, pilot whales and right whales, as well as white-sided dolphins, seabirds and other sea creatures.
Tickets are $65 for adults with discounts for seniors and children. If there are no whales spotted during the trip, guests receive a free ticket for future whale watching.
For approximately three to four hours, every day of the week, board the Whale Watcher and set sail for Stellwagen Bank.
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises began operations in 1980 and its captains have a combined half-century of whale watching experience. Throughout the trip, staff provide an entertaining and educational experience, the company said, answering customer questions and sharing the experience as they search for whales. Trips run daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon – until mid-September, after which they go once a day.
Tickets are $73 for adults, with discounts for seniors, children, and active military.
The Provincetown Whale Watching Company has been in business for almost 50 years.
Their main whale-watching sites are also at Stellwagen Bank, near its southern edge near Cape Cod. “P-town” is closer to the sanctuary than other parts of the state, reducing travel time and extending whale watching time. The trip lasts approximately three to four hours, during which the trip naturalist will discuss the sights visitors see in the ocean around them. Guests can also visit the Science Center onboard each Dolphin Fleet boat, where they can follow the boat’s journey and learn more about the whales and their habitat. Trips run throughout the day during the summer and early fall.
Tickets are $70 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors. If no whales are spotted, the company provides a ticket for a future voyage.
Departing from Plymouth or P-Town, the 3- or 4-hour tour will sail to Cape Cod Bay or Stellwagen Bank in search of humpback whales, fin whales, minke, right whales and pilot whales .
The trip is led by a marine biologist, who will teach guests about the ecosystem and animals around them and answer questions throughout the day. The program has even been adopted as a science curriculum in some schools, the company said. Trips from Plymouth run daily until the end of August, but continue on certain days a week until October. Provincetown tours only run in July and August.
Tickets are $70 for adults, with discounts for seniors and children. Whales are spotted 99% of the time, the company said, but tickets to future whale sightings are provided if the trip does not spot a whale.
Some people prefer a more private whale watching experience. Launching from Chatham, BlueWater Entertainment can provide it.
Up to six people can join Chatham-native Captain Matt Mendoza for a 2.5-hour whale-watching excursion, though larger groups can be booked for a multi-boat tour. The price will be a bit higher – $950 for the group – but from a smaller boat, the experience brings guests closer to the water and all that is in it.
In search of great whites and other fearsome fish
And then there are the shark tours.
Cape Cod has slowly and tentatively embraced its shark community as the population of marine predators grows, even following a fatal 2018 attack on Wellfleet. Stores sell keychains and bumper stickers featuring great white sharks. Apparel companies are printing great blanks on hoodies and t-shirts. And a growing cohort of charter boat operators are now offering white shark tours, taking tourists and locals in search of the creatures, just as they would on a whale watch, The Associated Press reported. last summer.
Shark tours are much more expensive than a whale watching excursion. According to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, there are no tour guides comparable to whale-watching companies that take dozens of people on large boats at once. Shark tours are primarily an activity of independent captains operating on their own boats for smaller groups.
But for those hungry to see a great white shark or other shark species in their element, these tours may be the answer.
In a two-and-a-half-hour charter, guests on board saw six sharks navigating the water, some of which ventured up to the surface, allowing for a closer view, according to the AP.
“It’s impressive, really,” said Michael Simard after his tour. “I hadn’t realized how graceful they were. It puts into perspective that it’s their element, and we just share it with them.
For a group of up to six people, trips cost $1,600. The cost includes a small companion plane flying above, keeping an eye out for the distinctive shadow of a shark and directing the captain of the boat below. Using a spotter plane is standard practice for some, but not all, Cape Town shark tour companies.
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a leading non-profit organization that studies and tracks sharks off Cape Cod, also offers guided tours in partnership with local captains.
Accompanied by one of AWSC’s naturalists, guests take part in what the organization calls “citizen science”: recording sightings of white sharks, using a hydrophone to determine if a shark has already been tagged, and recording observations to share with researchers.
Trips for groups of up to six people run through mid-October and cost $2,500.
This tour focuses on “Shark Alley”, a stretch of ocean off the coast of the Lower Cape, between Monomoy Island in Chatham and Nauset Beach in Orleans.
Seals frequent the area, which also makes it a hotbed of shark activity. During the tour, guests learn about shark anatomy and physiology, conservation efforts, and the increase in the shark population over the past decades, while observing the growing seal population.
Private charters for the three-hour tour range from $1,950 for up to six people to $2,650 for up to 14 people. Group expeditions cost $295 per person. Both tours use a spotter plane.
Considered Cape Cod’s premier white shark tour, the company operates out of Chatham, in the heart of the region’s great white shark and seal habitats.
As with other private charters, this tour uses a spotter plane to get “right on the sharks,” its website said, adding, “When we say ‘on the sharks,’ we mean you don’t can’t approach it safely!” Tours last just over two hours and cost $1,950. But for $2,750, guests can embark on a whale and shark combo excursion.
Despite the company name, this tour is not intended for fishing.
This is an excursion to get out on the ocean and spend a good part of the day looking for the creatures that inhabit the waters off Cape Cod. Guests will spend six hours scouring the Atlantic Ocean near Monomoy Island in search of white sharks, seals and humpback whales.
Tours cost $1,200 or $1,100 cash and can carry up to six people. To book, visit the company or call Captain Seamus Muldoon at 508-237-3962.
For the brave among us: Cape Cod Shark Diving offers both cage diving and open water diving.
Guides take participants in search of blue sharks, mako sharks, basking sharks and great whites, all of which can be found in the waters off Cape Town and the islands. No diving certification or experience is necessary.
For $325 per person, customers can book a dive trip for a group of up to six people. Pickups are available from Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, as well as Fairhaven.