10 Massachusetts whale and shark tours to go on this summer


The waters off the coast of Massachusetts are teeming with marine life. White sharks with names such as Heath Ledger and Fruit Loops swim daily by popular Cape Cod beaches. In Boston Harbor and off the coast of Plymouth, whales have recently spent weeks splashing around and sometimes sailing through the air.

Seeing photos of the colossal fish and mammals can be awe-inspiring. Seeing the creatures up close is something else entirely.

Whale watches have been a popular excursion for decades, bringing the public to the high seas in search of whales in their natural habitat. But as sharks — notably great white sharks, also known as white sharks — have grown in population and prominence in recent decades, shark tours have increasingly drawn visitors hoping to catch sight of the toothy predators.

These 10 shark and whale tours are all operating in Massachusetts this summer.

North Atlantic right whales sighted in Cape Cod Bay on March 21, 2021 (Center for Coastal Studies)

Run partnership with Boston Harbor City Cruises, the New England Aquarium’s whale watch sets sail from Boston for Stellwagen Bank.

The 840-square-mile preserve, New England’s only national marine sanctuary, sits between Cape Ann and Cape Cod and is a top spot for spotting whales in their natural habitat. The area is home to humpback whales, finback whales, minke whales, pilot whales and critically endangered right whales — along with white-sided dolphins, sea birds and other ocean creatures.

Tickets are $65 for adults with discounts for seniors and children. If there are no whales spotted on the journey, guests receive a free ticket to a future whale watch.

For around three to four hours any day of the week, hop on board the Whale Watcher and set sail for Stellwagen Bank.

Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises began operating in 1980, and their captains have a combined half-century years of whale watching experience. Throughout the trip, the staff provides an entertaining and educational experience, the company said, answering questions from guests and sharing in the experience as they search for whales. Trips run daily — once in the morning and once in the afternoon — through mid-September, after which they go to once-a-day.

Tickets are $73 for adults, with discounts for seniors, children and active military members.

whale watch

A whale breaches the water near a whale watch tour run by the Dolphin Fleet, based in Provincetown, Massachusetts, June 26, 2007. (Photo by Kim Hojackni, via the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism).

Provincetown’s signature whale watch company has operated for nearly 50 years.

Their primary whale watching spots are also in Stellwagen Bank, near its southern edge close to Cape Cod. “P-town” is closer to the sanctuary than other parts of the state, making for a shorter travel time and a longer period of whale watching. The trip lasts about three to four hours, during which the trip naturalist will discuss the sights visitors see in the ocean around them. Guests can also check out the science center onboard each Dolphin Fleet boat, where they can track the boat’s trip and learn about whales and their habitat. Trips run throughout the day during the summer and into the 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 trip.

Heading out from Plymouth or P-Town, the three or four hour tour will sail for Cape Cod Bay or Stellwagen Bank bank in search of humpback, finback, minke, right 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 through the end of August but continue on some days a week into October. Provincetown tours run only 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 watches are provided if the trip does not spot a whale.

whale watch

Whale watchers on Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary between Cape Cod and Cape Ann. (Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism via Flickr Creative Commons).

Some people prefer a more private whale watching experience. Launching from Chatham, BlueWater Entertainment may provide it.

Up to six people can join Chatham native Capt. Matt Mendoza for a two-and-a-half-hour whale watch tour, though bigger groups can be booked on a multi-boat trip. The price will be a bit steeper — $950 for the group — but from a smaller boat, the experience puts guests closer to the water and all it holds.

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 rises, even in the wake of a 2018 fatal attack in Wellfleet. Stores sell keychains and bumper stickers bearing white sharks. Clothing companies print great whites on hoodies and t-shirts. And a growing cohort of charter boat operators now offer white shark tours, taking tourists and locals out in search of the creatures, just as they might on a whale watch, the Associated Press reported last summer.

Great White Sharks

Great White Sharks spotted along Nauset Beach and Cape Cod National Seashore on August 12, 2021, in Chatham, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Shark tours are far more expensive than a whale watch excursion. According to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, there are no tour guides comparable to the whale watch companies that take dozens of people out on large boats at a time. Shark tours are primarily a business of independent captains operating on their own boats for smaller groups.

But for those with a hunger to see a great white or other species of shark in their element, these tours may be the answer.

Sharks on Cape Cod

Mindi Moran, of Portland, Maine, watches a great white shark swims past while on shark watch with Dragonfly Sportfishing charters off the Massachusetts’ coast of Cape Cod, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)AP

In a two-and-a-half-hour charter, guests onboard saw six sharks cruising through the water, some of which would venture toward the surface, allowing a closer view, according to the AP.

“It’s awe-inspiring, really,” Michael Simard said after his tour. “I didn’t realize how graceful they were. It does put it into perspective that this is 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 airplane flying above, keeping an eye out for the distinctive shadow of a shark, and directing the boat’s captain below. The use of a spotter plane is common practice for some, but not all, of the shark tour companies on the Cape.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a top nonprofit studying and tracking sharks off Cape Cod, also offers chartered tours in partnership with local captains.

Accompanied by one of the AWSC’s naturalists, guests participate in what the organization calls “citizen science” — logging white shark sightings, 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 run until mid-October and cost $2,500.

Iceland

Iceland, a great white shark, swimming off the coast of Cape Cod. (Photo courtesy of Atlantic White Shark Conservancy).

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, making it a hotbed of shark activity as well. On the tour, guests learn about shark anatomy and physiology, conservation efforts and the jump in shark population in recent decades, while also taking sight of the also-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. Group expeditions cost $295 per person. Both tours use a spotter plane.

Great White Shark

A nine foot great white shark swims beneath the harpoon boat, Ezyduzit, off of the eastern point of South Monomoy in Chatham, Mass on Saturday, July 31 2010. After a spotter plane saw the great white swimming near South Beach Friday, officials closed the eastern shore of the beach to swimming for the weekend. The swimming closure stretches from south of Lighthouse Beach to Monomoy Island. (AP Photo, Wendy Maeda, Pool)ASSOCIATED PRESS

Billed as Cape Cod’s first white shark tour, the company operates out of Chatham in the heart of the region’s white shark and seal habitats.

As with other private charters, this tour utilizes a spotter plane to get “right on the sharks,” its website said, adding: “When we say ‘on the sharks’, we mean you can’t safely get any closer!” Tours run a little more than two hours and cost $1,950. But for $2,750, guests can embark on a combo whale-and-shark tour.

Despite the name of the company, this tour is not for fishing.

This is a tour for getting out on the ocean and spending a serious chunk of the day in search of the creatures that call the waters off Cape Cod home. Guests will spend six hours tour combining the Atlantic Ocean near Monomoy Island for white sharks, seals and humpback whales.

Tours run for $1,200 or $1,100 in cash and can carry up to six people. To book, visit the company or call Capt. Seamus Muldoon at 508-237-3962.

For the bravest among us: Cape Cod Shark Diving offers both cage dives and open water dives.

Guides take participants out in search of blue sharks, mako sharks, basking sharks and great whites, all of which can be found in the waters off the Cape and Islands. No dive certification or experience is necessary.

For $325 per head, guests can book up a dive trip for a group of up to six people. Pickups are available on Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, as well as in Fairhaven.

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