Whale Watching in Gloucester MA [2023 Complete Guide]
Gloucester is a small town on the Atlantic coast of Massachusetts with a rich maritime and fishing history. Right now in 2023, Gloucester is celebrating its 400-year anniversary of European settlement. The town is known for its delicious seafood, relaxed vibe, historic structures, and of course, whale watching!
Gloucester is located approximately 12 miles from one of the most famous and active whale watching spots in the world. The most commonly sighted species are Humpback whales, but there’s so much life in the waters here that you have a very high probability of seeing many different types of marine species.
When is Whale Watching Season?
Whale watching season in Gloucester starts mid-April and runs through the end of October. The peak times to go are typically from the end of May through the middle of September. If you want to beat the crowds, consider going in April or May before school lets out for the summer. For the very best availability, be sure to book your reservations in advance.
Whale Species and other Wildlife
There are over nine different species of whales and several types of dolphins, porpoises, seals, sharks, fish, turtles, and birds in the waters off Gloucester.
The most commonly sighted whales on whale tours in this area are humpbacks, finback whales, and minke whales. In the spring and fall months, Atlantic white-sided dolphins are a common sighting.
Any other whale species sighting such as the North Atlantic Right Whale, Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Pilot Whale, Sei Whale, Beluga Whale, and Bottlenose Dolphins would be considered a rare occurrence.
Best Whale Watching Tours + Prices
There are two main whale watching tour companies to choose from in Gloucester. Both tours take you to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, an area just off the east coast of Massachusetts. Stellwagen Bank is famous for being one of the top whale watching destinations in the world. It’s so teeming with marine life that tour operators guarantee you’ll see whales while you’re there. Tours cost around $50-$65 per adult.
Cape Ann Whale Watch does a half-day excursion to Stellwagen Bank, which typically lasts around 3.5 – 4 hours and offers both a morning and afternoon departure time. You’ll ride in comfort aboard a catamaran complete with a temperature-controlled cabin and hot meals and refreshments available for purchase. The tours are guided by coast guard captains and marine biologists who will fill your brain with wildlife information as well as the natural history of the area. Their 2023 tour season starts April 22 and runs through the end of October.
7 Seas Whale Watch offers a 4-hour trip to Stellwagen Bank onboard a state-of-the-art vessel designed specifically for sightseeing. The boat features an upper and lower deck, plus a temperature-controlled cabin with snacks and beverages you can purchase. Tours are available once or twice per day depending on the month, with July and August being the busiest times. The tour is led by experienced captains and marine naturalists who know all the best spots to see whales and wildlife. To maximize your experience, ask the staff to rent you a pair of binoculars ($5) when you board the boat. 2023 tours run from April 15 to the end of October.
What to Wear
It’s best to dress in layers to protect yourself from the sun, wind, and shifting temperatures. Even if it’s a hot day in town, temperatures on the water can be up to 20 degrees cooler. Plus with the wind, you never know what you might encounter once you’re out on the ocean.
Linen, cotton, or lightweight summer pants are a good idea because they will help you stay cool while protecting you from the sun. During the spring and fall months, dress in thicker clothes to make sure you’ll be warm enough.
Wear nonslip shoes such as sneakers, athletic shoes, or rubber-soled shoes. If the deck gets wet, you’ll need to be stable on your feet. Do not wear leather shoes or heels. Avoid plastic-soled shoes because they can get slippery when they’re wet.
Remember to wear a hat to protect your face and neck from the sun.
What to Bring with You
- Long sleeve shirt or jacket. Don’t let yourself get trapped in the cabin because you got cold.
- Sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses are best because they reduce the glare off the water on bright days.
- Sunscreen. Remember, you’ll be hit with the sun from the sky as well as the sun reflecting off the water. Even if you feel nice and cool because of the wind, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not at risk for sunburn. It’s easy to get too much sun exposure when you’re on the water, even when you’re sitting in the shade.
- Prescription eyewear. If you need glasses to see distances, be sure to remember yours on tour day!
- Medications. It’s always a good idea to have some motion sickness and headache medicine on hand.
- Binoculars. Consider bringing your own, or rent some from the tour company.
- A waterproof electronics bag. It’s always a good idea to have one with you any time you go on a boat. You probably don’t need a fancy one; just bring a ziplock bag to be sure your phone and camera are safe.
- Cash for snacks and gratuities.
Gloucester is about a 50-minute drive from Boston Logan International Airport. You don’t absolutely need one, but it’s not a bad idea to get a rental car while visiting Gloucester. There are a lot of things to do and it’s much easier to get around when you’re not relying on other people to transport you.
Alternatively, the Newbury/Rockport bus line goes from nearby Chelsea directly to downtown Gloucester. The bus trip takes approximately 90 minutes when traveling from the airport. You’ll need to take two other short bus rides to get to Chelsea, or you could take a taxi or rideshare to the Chelsea bus station. Once you’re in Gloucester, rent an e-bike to help you get around town.
Other Things To Do
Gloucester is a nice little coastal town, and there’s plenty to do in addition to seeing the whales. If you’re a beach person, don’t miss Good Harbor Beach. Its pristine sand and shallow shoreline are ideal for swimming and sunbathing. During low tides, you can actually walk all the way out to Salt Island.
Main Street in downtown Gloucester is loaded with boutique shops and restaurants, perfect for a day of exploring the town on foot.
Take time out to visit the Maritime Gloucester Museum, open Thursday to Monday, to learn about marine habitats and their animal species. The museum features a brand new science center, an aquarium, and touch tanks where you can interact with live animals.
Finally, get your fill of historic lighthouses by visiting Eastern Point Lighthouse, built in the 1800s. From there, walk along the 100+ year old granite stone wharf to reach Dog Bar Lighthouse. Note these landmarks do not have wheelchair accessibility.