Whale Watching Cruises from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts: A Guide

The town of Nantucket is an island (or technically three islands because Tuckernuck and Muskeget are separate land masses) off the coast of Massachusetts, and off the coast of Massachusetts are some of the best whale watching waters in the world, so it should come as no surprise that there are whale watching cruises from Nantucket. These whale watching cruises take place primarily in the summer, when the population of Nantucket increases fivefold. Only one company operates whale watching cruises from Nantucket, Shearwater Excursions, so below we detail their offerings, as well as explain what to expect when whale watching out of Nantucket, which differs from whale watching in other parts of Massachusetts.

Most whale watching cruises from Massachusetts focus on the Stellwagen Bank, which serve as a feeding ground for whales and a number of other marine animals. The Stellwagen Bank is basically directly east of Boston, south of Gloucester, and north of Provincetown and the rest of Cape Cod. Thus, the various departure points for whale watching cruises along the Massachusetts coast essentially surround this area, with each town’s ships approaching the bank from a different angle.

However, Nantucket is far away from this area. It is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the bottom of Cape Cod, and this part of Cape Cod is at least that far from the Stellwagen Bank. So, cruises from Nantucket are substantially longer (about six hours) than regular cruises out of Massachusetts, which generally last about three or four hours, and they also cover different waters. When leaving from Nantucket, you aren’t in whale watching territory a few miles from shore. However, whale watching cruises from Nantucket still focus on seeing humpback, finback and minke whales, along with other marine animals, like dolphins and sea turtles, and all other cruises from Massachusetts have a similar focus. So, cruises from Nantucket are unique in some ways, but at the end of the day you are going after the same animals, regardless of which part of Massachusetts you depart from.

Shearwater Excursions is the company that offers whale watching cruises out of Nantucket, although they also offer a number of other tours, including seal cruises, cocktail cruises, and harbor tours. As mentioned, the cruises last about six hours, which is substantially longer than most whale watching cruises, and this partially explains the high price of these cruises, $165 per person. However, this is about three or four times as much as other whale watching cruises in Massachusetts, and we suspect the higher prices are related to the higher prices of everything in Nantucket. It is definitely an island for the wealthy, where the home values are among the highest in the country. Thus, a good portion of the people on Nantucket can probably afford a more expensive cruise, but if the prospect of paying several hundred dollars for your family to whale watch seems unpalatable, then we recommend finding another city from which to sail. If you are interesting in sailing with Shearwater Excursions, though, you can cruise with them every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday from mid-June to mid-October.

A whale watching cruise from Nantucket is unique among Massachusetts whale watching cruises. Cruises from Nantucket are much longer, and you also explore different waters on your search for whales. However, the prices are much higher for these cruises as well, so you might consider taking a whale watching cruise from another Massachusetts town if possible, and focus on other activities in Nantucket. For more information, check out our article on whale watching cruises in Massachusetts.

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