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Whale Watching in Nantucket

Whale Watching in Nantucket

There is nothing quite like heading out to sea on a whale watching tour to observe the world’s largest creatures feeding or playing up close. It’s exhilarating, breathtaking, and a memory you’re sure to treasure.

The World Wildlife Fund ranked Massachusetts as one of the top 10 whale watching spots in the world and a whale watching cruise from Nantucket is especially unique. Whale watching cruises that leave from Nantucket are much longer, usually a 6 hour round-trip, and you will explore different waters on your search for whales than the cruises that leave from the Massachusetts coast.

The best time for whale watching in Massachusetts is in the warmer months, typically from April to October, although whales have been spotted in waters around Massachusetts as early as mid-March and as late as early November.

The whales migrate north to Massachusetts to feed on mackerel, herring, krill and other schooling fish that breed in our nutrient-rich waters. As soon as the weather turns cold, however, whales travel south to warmer waters to breed and give birth.

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Whales most commonly sighted on Nantucket whale watching trips are Humpback whales, Finback whales, and Minke whales. Some days, lucky observers will see the theatrical Humpback whales breeching out of the water right in front of the boat! Other sea life that you may see include Basking Sharks, White Sided Dolphins, and Sea Turtles.

The trip to the whaling grounds from Nantucket is 25 to 39 miles offshore and usually takes about an hour and a half to arrive, and of course an hour and a half to get back. That means you will have about three hours to find and observe the whales. Plenty of time to get some amazing photos!

For whale watching trips out of Nantucket, we highly recommend Shearwater Excursions, a local family-run eco tour company. Shearwater Excursions has close ties with many research organizations, and Captain Blair’s experience as a commercial fisherman, boat captain, and naturalist for more than 40 years on Nantucket Island means you get exceptional education and well-narrated tours.

Plus, with an average of 30 to 60 identified whales per trip, Shearwater guarantees whale sightings or you get another chance for free!

Wondering what you should bring on a whale watching trip? Here’s a short list of essentials.

What to bring:

  • Light jacket or sweatshirt
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses

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Whaling History

For more than 100 years between 1750 and 1850, the headquarters of the global oil business was our very own Nantucket Island. Whale oil supplied the fuel for the lamps that illuminated the nights in American homes, and Nantucket whalers were the acknowledged world leaders, the masters of the hunt for the spermaceti (Sperm) whale.

Most captains and crew at other New England ports refused to hunt the Sperm whale, because it was too dangerous. Many whaleboats were struck by Sperm whales, which usually resulted in death for those on board.

In July of 1819, whale oil prices were rising steadily, the rest of the world's economy was depressed, and the small island of Nantucket was about to become one of the richest towns in America. The Essex was one of a fleet of more than seventy Nantucket whaleships in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

But in 1820, an angry sperm whale sank the whaleship Essex, leaving its desperate crew to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. You’re probably familiar with this story, documented by Nathaniel Philbrick, who revealed the chilling facts of this infamous maritime disaster in the book "In the Heart of the Sea". Recently In the Heart of the Sea has adapted for the big screen, and released as a thriller directed by Ron Howard.

This is just a small but important part of Nantucket whaling history, which we tell you more about in more depth in another post. We hope you get out and enjoy an amazing whale watching trip out of Nantucket!

Nantucket Whale Watch June 21 - October 15 Sunday, Wednesday & Friday Phone: 508.228.7037 Price: $165.00 / person Time & Length: Depart at 8:00am and return around 2:00pm Tickets must be purchased in advance.