Whales have been a big part of Nantucket island for almost as long as the island has existed. In the mid-1700s, they were mainly hunted for food and oil, but nowadays, their preservation and beauty have taken over, giving people a chance to view these majestic sea creatures.
In the present days, up to as recently as last year, whales appear more on the Nantucket coast. This has brought about a new interest in the whales, making many people venture out to the island for whale watching. The whales are an almost reliable sight each year.
Nantucket Whaling History
Whalers took over the global oil business between 1750 and 1850. They would hunt whales and use their fat to make oil for lamps, making the island an industrial center. Whaling inspired books like “In the Heart of the Sea” and “Moby Dick” and almost made Nantucket the richest town in America.
The constant whale hunting over the years created a massive decline in the whale population. The declining population eventually led to a decrease of whale hunting and the whaling business. For many years after, one could only spot a few whales every once in a while, making them an uncommon sight.
However, whales are now a more common sight, although the numbers are still not as high as they used to be. Many people flock to the island for the whale watching months to glimpse the mixed-species whales.
Types of Whales
While more and different whales are now emerging on the shore, the most common types are the humpback whale and the critically endangered species, North Atlantic Right whale.
This is the most common species in Nantucket. The humpback weighs around 79,000 pounds and is about 40 to 50 feet long. The whales eat a lot, so they migrate to the island and Cape Cod every year to feed on krill, school fish, and cod found in the waters.
The whales find food in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. It is a federally protected 842 square mile marine sanctuary near Cape Cod Bay. The sanctuary is used to create feeding grounds for the whales, which helps preserve their population.
Humpback whales produce beautiful, lengthy songs that can last for an hour. You can record them if they come close to the shore, but it is advised not to get too close to them, even with boats.
North Atlantic Right Whales
They got the name because they were considered the ‘right’ kind of whale for hunting. Their excessive hunting led to a drastic decline of the species, with only less than 350 existing today.
About half of their population has come to Cape Cod bay over the years, giving you a chance to see these endangered species up close. Their endangerment has increased the US Coast Guard presence in the area and brought more attention to the town. Consequently, the attention from the sightings has made many whale watchers flock to the shore every season.
Despite federal protection, the whales are still dying, albeit slower. The two most common causes of the whales’ death are getting trapped in fishing gear and getting struck by ships. That is why vessels cannot get close to any whale pod.
Other types of whales you can see in the region include Finback, Minke, Blue whale, Pilot, Beluga, and Sperm.
Whale Watching Areas
Whales have mainly been seen at Nobadeer, east to Tom Nevers, Stone’s Beach, Fisherman Beach, and the Siasconset bluff. Other areas include Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod bay. You can also look for the best viewing spots and whale sightings online to get informed once they start coming to the shore.
If you live around the island, you can volunteer for babysitting duties, where you will be on the lookout for any whale sightings. This helps keep track of the whales and assists the Coast Guard in preventing boats from getting too close to the animals.
Best Times for Whale Watching
Whales sometimes appear in March or towards the end of June till the end of the year. They migrate in search of a warmer climate and to seek food.
The island’s south shore has become a common feeding ground for multiple species. The whales sometimes come almost 30 feet from the beach, prompting onlookers to take pictures and videos.
Groups such as the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies help preserve the whales and ensure their well-being. They research, monitor, and track whales to learn their behaviors and migrating patterns.
They also ensure they are well fed and conduct population analysis. All this is done to increase the whale population and protect the whales from any potential harm.
Rules to Follow When Whale Watching
You must first arm yourself with sunscreen and water to prevent dehydration and sunburn under the scorching Nantucket sun. You can also bring a pair of binoculars if you own some. This is because the whales don’t come too close to the shore, and you might need a little help viewing them.
While at it, you need to be mindful of the laws set by the state and federal authorities. These are there to protect these endangered species.
Don’t go within 500 yards of the whales if you are on a boat or other water vessel. Violating this rule could result in a fine of up to $100,000 and criminal charges.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration division created a zone with a 2 nautical miles speed restriction. Larger vessels, 65 feet or longer, should not approach the area and only use 10 knots or fewer speeds.
You can also volunteer to patrol the beach, look out for anyone violating the set rules, and alert the USCG.
Whale spotting has become more common over the last few years, with more whales showing up in the warmer months. Pay a visit to the coast when you are on Nantucket to see these majestic creatures. They truly are a sight to behold!
Don’t forget to adhere to the rules that protect them to ensure their population will keep growing and thriving.