Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Where whales and other wonders awe one and all

a whale

Have a Whale of a Time

An estimated one million people whale watch within Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary every year during the peak months of April to October.

Stellwagen Bank — an underwater plateau located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay about 25 miles from Boston — has been known for centuries as a rich and productive ecosystem, where fishermen venture in search of cod, haddock, flounder, tuna, and herring.

In recent decades, the region has become famous for whale watching and is routinely ranked among the world's top-10 whale-watching destinations.

NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary protects this special marine area. The sanctuary's boundaries stretch from three miles southeast of Cape Ann to three miles north of the famous Province Lands of Cape Cod National Seashore — the place that inspired Henry David Thoreau to write "A man may stand there and put all America behind him."

Whale species often observed in the sanctuary include the acrobatic humpback whale, and fin, minke, sei, and pilot whales. Regular visitors also include Atlantic white-sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and gray seals. Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales also traverse the sanctuary, but regulations require boats to stay at least 500 yards away from them, making sightings difficult.

Visiting Your Sanctuary

If Boston, Salem, or Cape Cod and the Islands are on your summer itinerary, consider a visit to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Throughout the summer, you can:

  • Go whale-watching, of course! An estimated one million people do so every year during the peak months of April to October. Many private whale-watching companies offer trips to Stellwagen Bank.
  • Go birding. The sanctuary is also known as an exciting birdwatching destination. Birders are welcome to join whale watchers on their ocean safaris. They may be able to add new species to their birding lists, like the noisy Laughing Gull, the large Northern Gannet, or the endangered Roseate Tern.
  • Go fishing on a charter boat. They depart from various locations near the sanctuary. Halibut, haddock, and flounder are popular catches. Or strap yourself into a fighting chair and angle for a big bluefin tuna!
  • Dive into the depths. Several dive charters offer trips for experienced divers seeking a challenging open-ocean dive on shipwrecks and seafloor habitats.
  • Take a boat trip. The sanctuary is open to all vessels, from sailboats to oceangoing cruise liners. Small boats are advised to refrain from open-water trips to the sanctuary. Before departing, make sure your vessel contains proper safety equipment for all passengers, and that you understand all regulations and guidelines for proper boating around whales. And don't forget to check the marine weather forecast!
  • Take a tour at one of the shoreside visitor centers that offer sanctuary exhibits.

Sanctuary Series

As a travel destination, few places on the planet can compete with the diversity of the National Marine Sanctuary System. This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight what you can see and do at some of our most iconic natural and cultural marine resources. Check out our other sanctuary stories:

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