Your Guide for Whale Watching in Maine
Maine’s rocky coast is full of natural wonders, but one of its greatest shows happens just offshore. Migrating to the Maine coast about half the year, whales are the most awe-inspiring creature to witness at sea. As the world’s largest living creatures, seeing them with your own eyes is a magical experience.
Whale watching ranks high on my list of things to do in Maine, and it’s something I highly recommend saving time for. There’s no more endearing experience in Maine for wildlife enthusiasts, and I could watch these magnificent animals all day. That’s why I created this guide to help you prepare for an exciting whale watching excursion in Maine.
From the best time of year to schedule your Maine vacation to the best cruising spots, I’ve got you covered for an unforgettable time. I’ve also included some of my favorite tour companies for you to read more about when planning your trip. Keep this guide handy, and you’ll be ready to spot Humpback, Minke, Pilot, and other incredible whale species.
Your Guide for Whale Watching in Maine
Ethical concerns | Best Time to Go Whale Watching in Maine | Top Spots for Whale Watching in Maine | Bar Harbor | Boothbay Harbor | Kennebunkport | Portland | Milbridge | Tips for an Enjoyable Maine Whale Watching Cruise | Wear Layers | Bring Binoculars | Bring Sunscreen | Pack Extra Socks | Do You Need Motion Sickness Tablets? | Don’t be Disappointed About Zero Sightings | Only Sail With Reputable Tour Companies
Although whale watching is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you may wonder if it’s an ethical one. Does it harm the whales or cause them stress by sailing the open sea to spot them? Fortunately, whale watching can be practised responsibly when your host follows a code of ethics. Here are ways of ensuring your whale watching cruise is an ethical excursion:
- Does your tour have an expert guide onboard instead of an audio recording?
- Are you watching whales in the wild and not in captivity?
- Does your company believe in conservation and the welfare of whales over-tourism?
- Does your whale encounter interrupt their normal behavior patterns?
- Does your guide approach whales from the side and not the front or rear?
- Does your guide turn off the engines when there are whales in the vicinity?
- Does your guide view whales from a safe distance?
- Does your guide forbid feeding whales since this disrupts their eating patterns?
- If there is a crowd of boats, does your guide steer away to find another group of whales to not disturb any pods?
These are all important questions to ask yourself, and you should understand whale watching ethics before you book a tour. If you ever spot unethical behaviour from a tour operator, don’t be afraid to call them out on it. These majestic creatures must not have their natural environments disturbed simply for a social media picture.
Best Time to Go Whale Watching in Maine
The waters off the coast of Maine are filled with vital food sources for whales to feed. Whales migrate to the Maine coast during the warmer months for a buffet of plankton, small fish, krill, copepods, and more. Around mid-April is when you’ll start to see the first signs of whales on the Maine coast. The peak summer months of June-August are prime months for visitors to set sail and locate feeding whales. By October, the whales depart Maine to migrate to the warmer waters of the Caribbean for winter.
Top Spots for Whale Watching in Maine
Just 20 miles off the Maine coast, you’ll see these fantastic creatures swimming beneath your vessel or breaching from the water’s surface. Maine’s rocky coastline has endless launching pads with experienced whale watching tour companies to help you find them. If whale-watching is high on your to-do list in Maine, these are my favorite spots for Maine whale watching cruises.
1. Bar Harbor
As the gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is one of the best places for your Maine trip. While there are tons of things to do inside the park, whale-watching is one activity accessible from Bar Harbor. With the Mount Desert Island coast serving as your backdrop, Bar Harbor whale watching cruises are an unforgettable experience.
The Gulf of Maine is stocked with beautiful marine creatures, and you won’t have to venture to find them. Sailing from Bar Harbor, you’ll cruise to the Finback, Humpback, and Minke whale feeding grounds. Although whales are the main attraction, you’ll also spot dolphins, seals, and sharks. If you’re really lucky, you may even spot Giant Tuna.
My all-time favorite whale-watching company for awe-inspiring cruises is Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. They’ve operated for over 25 years and have mastered the art of whale watching to perfection. In addition to standard whale watching cruises to spot marine life in the Gulf of Maine, they offer an incredible lineup of other cruises.
Their Nature Cruises offer stunning views of Acadia National Park from your vessel. Book a lighthouse cruise, and Maine’s gorgeous lighthouses steal the show. But the one dearest to me is their whale-puffin watching combo cruises. The chance to see mighty whales and adorable Atlantic puffin in one trip is an unbeatable experience.
2. Boothbay Harbor
Just over an hour north of Portland, Boothbay Harbor is my runner-up for best places for Maine whale watching. Book a tour from Maine’s Mid-Coast, and you’ll enter important feeding grounds for the whale population. The guides in this area are experts on whale movements and know exactly where to take their customers. Around Boothbay Harbor, you also have the opportunity to find dolphins, seals, seabirds, and other marine creatures.
The undisputed king of whale watching in Boothbay Harbor is Cap’n Fish’s Whale Watch. Operating for around 80 years, they earn the title of the original whale watching outfitter on Maine’s Mid-Coast. Their tours are on modern ships, and local marine biologists narrate the adventure for guests. With the fastest boats in the area, you’ll cover more space to find marine life. In addition to whales, you’ll have an excellent chance of finding dolphins, seals, and sharks in the water.
Cap’n Fish’s also offers a shorter alternative to give you delightful harbor views and passes lounging seal colonies. Their harbor cruises sail by two lighthouses, rocky islands and provide insight into Maine’s lobster industry. Lobster is one of my favorite dishes when I travel to Maine, and this is the best tour to learn how these creatures get to your plate.
When you’re driving through southern Maine, the coastal town of Kennebunkport is a whale-watching gem. The charming village is heralded for its shipbuilding prowess and nurtured sea captains for hundreds of years. Much of Kennebunkport’s colonial charm flourishes today since it transformed into a delightful resort town. With an oceanside location, Kennebunkport remains one of the best places to depart for whale watching. Humpback and Minke whales make frequent appearances in the southern Maine waters, but expert sea captains help you spot other marine life.
First Chance Whale Watch is the company that comes to mind when I’m searching for an authentic cruise. Their two vessels lead thrilling trips that search for marine life and offer stunning coastline views. In addition to several whale species, it’s common to find dolphins and swordfish on their cruises. First Chance is another excellent option when you want to learn about Maine’s lobster industry.
New England Eco Adventures is an alternative outfitter that helps you ditch the summer crowds behind. Their boat adventures offer scenic speedboat rides, lighthouse cruises, seal watching cruises, and action-packed whale-watching cruises. Another reason I love New England Eco Adventures is their commitment to conservation. They limit their whale watching cruises to 20 passengers, and it’s a breath of fresh air when I’m tired of packed vessels. With their passionate captains at the helm, you’ll often spot Humpback whales, Minke whales, Pilot whales, Fin whales, Blue whales, and Sperm whales.
If you’re unable to leave Maine’s largest city, don’t think your whale-watching hopes have faded away. The vibrant port town adjacent to Casco Bay clings to its seafaring roots, and seaside adventures are easily accessible. Just stroll along the Old Port waterfront to find fishing wharves, exceptional seafood restaurants, and a lively shopping scene. The Greater Portland region is a seafarer’s playground, and you’ll many cruise companies offering tours. And large groups of whales are a short journey from Portland’s bustling harbor.
Whenever you’re exploring Portland, my top-choice for a whale-watching extravaganza is Odyssey Whale Watch. For a quality price, you’ll explore the rich waters of Casco Bay and search for majestic sea creatures. While Humpbacks, Minkes, and Finbacks are the star attractions, you’ll likely spot other wildlife. These educational journeys also help you find Sea Turtles, Basking Sharks, Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins, and many seabirds. Their smaller vessels offer excursions to Fort Gorges and a local seal rookery in Casco Bay.
I’ve already mentioned a couple of outfitters that give you insight into Maine’s lobster industry. And Portland has their own cruise company that offers exciting Maine lobstering tours. Lucky Catch Cruises let you participate in the lobster catching process, or you can comfortably watch the show. I love their small group tours, and it’s a fantastic way for me to step into the shoes of a Maine Lobsterman (even if only for 2 hours). Plus, the picturesque scenery onboard shows off lighthouses, seal colonies, and Maine’s rugged coastline.
My last entry for Maine’s top whale-watching destinations is the tiny town of Milbridge. This hidden gem is closer to the northern reaches of the Maine coast near New Brunswick, Canada. With its scenic location on Narraguagus Bay, Milbridge earns praise for some of the tastiest blueberries you’ll ever taste. But the seaside community has expert fishermen who haul in delicious catches from the sea. If you’re lucky enough to wander into this delightful town, you can ride a lobster boat to view lighthouses and search for whales.
Robertson Sea Tours and Adventures is the pride of Milbridge, and they offer some of the best whale-watching tours in Maine. You’ll hop aboard an authentic lobster boat for an intimate cruise around the Downeast Maine area. Their Lighthouse & Wildlife Cruise sails past three lighthouses, a lobster trap haul, and beautiful wildlife species. On the Puffin & Seabird Cruise, you’ll sail to Petit Manan Island to observe a sanctuary that hosts tons of seabirds during the summer. While aboard the 32-foot ‘Kandi Leigh,’ your adventure will likely lead to encounters with Humpbacks and Minke whales.
Tips for an Enjoyable Maine Whale Watching Cruise
While whale watching is one of my favorite activities in this beautiful state, it requires some preparation. If you’ve never embarked on a whale-watching excursion before, check out these essential tips that helped me. Take it from my experience, arriving at the port unprepared is a recipe for a miserable trip.
1. Wear Layers
Although whale-watching tours are primarily during the warm summer months, you’ll need to bring extra clothing. The temperature at sea is often 10-15 degrees cooler, and you could easily shiver on the deck. Bring a sweater, hoody, raincoat, scarf & gloves, or anything else that will keep you warm. Remember, you can always remove your layers if you get too hot.
2. Bring Binoculars
The thought of seeing majestic whales swimming directly beside your boat is magical, but it’s usually not reality. Usually, you’ll have no clue when whales are noticeable at sea. And they’re often far from the boat, and it can be frustrating not having a clear vantage. Whenever I go whale watching, binoculars are always part of my checklist. Having them around my neck or strapped to my waist makes it easier to find whales and other wildlife.
3. Bring Sunscreen
With the intense sun beaming on top of you, sunscreen will help you avoid a nasty sunburn. Although I pack a hat and shades, sunscreen adds an extra layer of protection that comes in handy. Don’t underestimate the power of the sun’s rays when you’re exposed on the deck for hours.
4. Pack Extra Socks
There’s nothing more miserable than walking around the boat with soaked socks. When you’re sailing, there is always a possibility of marine creatures splashing around or big waves crashing against the boat. Unless you decide to wear strapped sandals, I’d advise throwing another pair of socks into your bag. Trust me; wet socks make any whale-watching cruise miserable.
5. Do You Need Motion Sickness Tablets?
Unfortunately, seafaring excursions aren’t for everyone, and seasickness can be a bummer. If you’re prone to motion sickness, the rocking boat may lead to an upset stomach. Just stop by a pharmacy before you depart to find tablets that aid motion sickness symptoms. Fortunately, many outfitters sell tablets for customers who are afraid of tossing their cookies overboard.
6. Don’t Be Disappointed About Zero Sightings
Although some seafarers witness a jaw-dropping spectacle of whale sightings, others aren’t so lucky. Whales are wild creatures, and it’s sometimes impossible to track all their movements and behaviors. Even experienced sea captains can’t find whales at times, and it’s frustrating for paying customers. I like to maintain a positive attitude, but it can be upsetting not to spot whales after booking a 3-4 hour cruise. Fortunately, most companies provide you a voucher for a future tour on days with zero whale sightings.
7. Only Sail With Reputable Tour Companies
While I listed my favorite whale-watching tour companies above, choose wisely if you decide on a different group. Read reviews and conduct thorough research before you book your adventure at sea. Whale watching excursions take experience, and the best companies have welcomed guests for years. You don’t want your first whale watching trip to be an unpleasant one due to an unprofessional company.
Have you gone whale watching on Maine? Please share your experience below in the comments. Would love to hear from you.
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