As the sun makes its retreat into the horizon, the whales of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary come out to play. Their elephantine fins slap the waters with such zeal that the pod seems to be putting on a performance for the catamaran of whale watchers in their midst. This end-of-day nature show experienced by passengers aboard Boston's Best Cruises’ New England Aquarium Whale Watch is hardly a rarity, as the ship’s crews guarantee sightings of these gentle giants with each excursion.
Champions of the natural beauty of Boston Harbor and the area’s rich maritime history, Boston's Best Cruises’ expert crew sets sail on cruises to suit all manner of interest. Along with their whale watches, Boston’s Best Cruises whisks passengers away on Harbor Cruises that grant unimpeded views of the Boston skyline and the King Kongs pumping fists within its skyscrapers. The Salem Ferry facilitates leisurely cruises between Boston and the historic city, and aquatic outings to the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area enable activities such as sunset clambakes, hiking, and fishing.
During tours with Massachusetts Bay Lines, passengers can watch the sun dip behind the city from the middle of the harbor. Lights
flicker on across the skyline, poking holes in the setting darkness and pinpointing each building's location. All the while, the water laps against the side of the boat, providing a soothing soundtrack.
Massachusetts Bay Lines has specialized in stunning views such as these for over 50 years. The family-owned company operates out of Rowes Wharf in downtown Boston, and its fleet includes a total of five unique vessels, instead of just one boat with a different name painted on the side each week. Customers can rent these boats out as private charters, or they can climb aboard for music and group tours of the harbor, which cruise past the 200-year-old USS Constitution and many more of the city's historic sites.
Cape Cod Bay stretches out in all directions, its waters glittering under an azure sky. Here, razor bills, petrals, and shearwater circle over the cresting waves. Occasionally, a massive black flank breaks the surface, and a whale sprays a fountain of blow toward the sun. Such is the typical scene enjoyed by the passengers, U.S. Coast Guard–licensed captain, and crew aboard a Capt. John Boats tour.
Following more than six decades of tradition, the company's boats embark on whale-watching tours of Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank, passing landmarks such as Gurnet Light and Clark's Island on their quest to find local sea birds and marine life. All the while, on-board naturalists educate passengers about the local ecosystem. But Capt. John Boats' excursions aren't limited to observation—the boats also depart for private and group fishing trips ranging from just a few hours to multiple days. By dropping anchor or drifting with the tide, the captain teaches groups to ply the waters of local fishing grounds for seasonal catches.
You're rarely guaranteed to see a whale, unless you go to the aquarium or you're watching Free Willy very carefully. For passengers with Plymouth Whale Watch, however, sightings are guaranteed—if you don't see a whale on your trip you can come back again until you do see one. The expert crew helps passengers spot species from humpback whales to pilot whales during trips that traverse North Atlantic waters en route to Stellwagen Bank. On the boat's lower deck and roomy sun decks, passengers might also spot porpoises, seals, and dolphins. Between sightings, patrons can listen to the crew's historical tidbits about Plymouth, and head to a galley that's stocked with food and drinks.
Since 1979, the whale-watching pioneers of Cape Ann Whale Watch have escorted more than half a million spectators fascinated by the sea's magnificent leviathans on three- to four-hour treks 15 miles off the Gloucester coast, earning it a spot on the Top 5 American Whale-Watching Tours by Joshua Horwitz, author of War of the Whales. Aboard the lightning-fast 115-foot
Hurricane II, passengers can witness the natural grace of humpback whales, finback whales, dolphins, and pirates disguised as mermaids feeding and frolicking just feet from the boat. In the course of the approximately 30-mile circuit, a naturalist from Whale Cetacean Alliance narrates excursions, illumining the sight of each water dweller by discussing why whales breach, how to recognize individual humpbacks, and various feeding styles.
Capt. Bill and Sons Whale Watch started more than 50 years ago, but the late Captain Bill Cunningham can't take full credit for his business' creation. In many ways, the whales themselves founded the company, though they still made Bill do all of the paperwork. Capt. Bill and Sons originally chartered deep sea fishing trips, but the anglers would often get distracted when a humpback or minke whale breached the surface. Seeing how the majestic mammals awed his passengers, the company decided to stow its fishing rods and set out on whale-watching tours instead.
Today, the Capt. Bill and Sons team—which includes son Marc—welcome whale-watchers aboard their two-tiered ship, the Miss Cape Ann. Once they head out into the water, the experts share tips on
spotting whales and insights into the animals' behavior, biology, and social structure. Passengers should look sharp for other species as well, as
the waters around Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge are also home to Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbor seals.