Stretched across the mouth of Massachusetts Bay east of Boston, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is an Atlantic Ocean reserve designed to protect the area’s rich marine environment. Created in 1992, the sanctuary is visited by migrating wild whales and other sea life, and draws numerous whale-watching boat trips from Boston.
Covering 842 square miles (1,355 square kilometers) between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, the Stellwagen sanctuary is named after an underwater sandbar that extends between the two capes. Its feeding grounds draw wild humpback, Minkes, and other whales in summer, alongside dolphins and many other species.
Aside from expensive private boat charters, the easiest way to visit Stellwagen to see its wildlife is on one of the shared-group whale-watching cruises that leave Boston between spring, summer, and fall. Most operate using high-speed catamarans and provide on-board naturalists for commentary. Save hassle by prebooking online or make a day of it with a combo that includes a cruise and entry to the city’s New England Aquarium.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Sailing to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is a must-do for wildlife and marine buffs.
- Most whale-watching cruises take around three hours.
- Most boats are stroller- and wheelchair-friendly.
- Take shades, binoculars, and sunscreen: you’ll spend much of any trip on an outdoor deck.
How to Get There
Boston’s whale-watching cruises are pretty much the only—and simplest and least expensive—way to experience the Stellwagen. Trips leave from a dock on Boston’s Long Wharf, located near the New England Aquarium and just a short walk from Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. The wharf is easily accessible via Boston’s “T” public transportation: catch the Blue Line subway to the Aquarium station, just steps from the boat dock. While driving isn’t recommended, there are several paid parking garages nearby.
When to Get There
Whale-watching trips leave from Boston from late March to mid-November, with the number of daily sailings varying according to the season. Boats leave several times daily during the peak June-September period; and in terms of sightings, there’s little difference between mornings and afternoons. Morning trips tend to be less crowded, so are best if you prefer a quieter atmosphere on board.
What To See in Stellwagen
Boston’s whale-watching cruises have a good rate of sightings. With luck, you’ll see some of the whales that migrate to the Stellwagen for summer, including humpbacks, Minkes, pilots, and even endangered right whales, all in their natural environment. Other common sightings include dolphins, leatherback sea turtles, seals, and birds such as tern and cormorants.