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What To Expect on a Whale-Watching Tour from Boston

The Sanctuary, a New England Aquarium whale watching ship

The opportunity to see a friend get married in Boston led to one of the best whale-watching tours of my life. Based on previous excursions in Ecuador and Iceland, I had low expectations. But Boston beat them by a long shot, and I didn’t even have to leave the United States.

In this post, I’ll share my experience on a whale-watching catamaran cruise from Boston Harbor and some fun facts about the humpback, fin, and minke whales you can see.

Whale Watching Tour

Boston Harbor

The Sanctuary, a New England Aquarium whale watching ship
Our ship, The Sanctuary

It was 2 p.m. on Monday, July 3, 2023, when Kel and I arrived at Long Wharf in Boston Harbor for our cruise. The day before, we’d attended my friend Kate McCulley’s wedding in Boston Public Garden. And the day after, we planned to drive up the New England coast to Portland, Maine.

We booked the $74 per person tour through Get Your Guide’s website. Their email confirmation instructed us to arrive 30 minutes before departure and to pick up physical tickets at the Boston Harbor City Cruises kiosk. Once those were collected, we got in the long line to board the Sanctuary, a New England Aquarium Whale-Watching vessel.

At 2:15 p.m., the boarding process began. I don’t know how many hundreds of people these whale-watching boats can carry, but it’s impressive to see everyone fit on board. I worried the capacity crowd would make it hard to get a good vantage point to see whales when the time came.

Our tour departed Long Wharf on time at 2:30 p.m. and puttered through calm Boston Harbor at a safe speed. As we made our way east out of the channel, planes could be seen landing at Boston Logan International Airport to the north. The sky was mostly cloudy.

Departing Boston HarborDeparting Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor

Aboard Sanctuary

Whale watching tours from Boston travel east through Massachusetts Bay for about 21 miles to reach the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The 842-square-mile reserve is between Cape Ann in Rockport, MA, to the north and Cape Cod to the south. The protected waters are considered part of the Gulf of Maine, the fastest-warming body of water on the planet due to global warming.

A few months earlier, I learned about the superheated waters of the Gulf of Maine on a lobster boat tour in Bar Harbor. The warm waters are causing lobsters to migrate north toward Canada, thereby threatening Maine’s lobster industry.

During our trip to the marine reserve, I couldn’t help but notice how loud the boat was. An app on my watch registered 75 decibels in…

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