The 18 Best Places to Whale Watch on the U.S. East Coast

Written by Joyce Nash
Updated: October 2, 2023
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Seeing whales in their natural habitat can be an awe-inspiring experience. These majestic creatures are among the largest animals on Earth, and the coastal regions of the United States offer plenty of opportunities for whale watching. 

On the East Coast, several species of whales spend the summer months in the northern waters feeding on fish before traveling south during the winter months. With careful timing and some luck, whale watchers can spot whales as they feed, migrate, and even nurse their young. If your travels are focused on the Atlantic states, here are the best places for East Coast whale watching.

1. Cape Cod, MA

A popular destination for East Coast whale watching is the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located three miles north of Cape Cod. This protected area spans nearly 900 square miles and offers tourists the chance to see humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, and more. The waters at Stellwagen Bank have high levels of biodiversity that support whales during their seasonal migration. 

Whale watchers in Cape Cod have several options for cruise or boat operators. When you’re looking for whales, keep an eye out for birds hovering above the water for a clue that whales are nearby.

Humpback Whale near Cape Cod

Adult humpback whales emerge from the water about every 7 to 15 minutes, whereas calves typically emerge every 3 to 5 minutes.

©alexander hauke/

2. Jacksonville, FL

Whale watchers can travel to Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic coast for a rare chance to see the northern right whale. These whales are critically endangered, and fewer than 500 right whales are left in the Northern Atlantic region.

Northern right whales migrate south in December from the Cape Cod area to Florida’s waters, where females subsequently give birth and nurse their young before heading back north around March. For the best chance of spotting a right whale, pack binoculars and keep an eye out for water sprays in distinctive “V” shapes.

North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whales produce blows that can extend 15 feet into the air!

©6381380/iStock via Getty Images

3. Long Island, NY

The summer and fall months offer plenty of opportunities to spot whales in the waters off Long Island. Tourists are likely to spot humpback whales, fin whales, and bottlenose dolphins. Tours depart from multiple locations, offering visitors flexibility with trip planning.

Cruises with the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island include a marine biologist onboard to answer questions and provide information about the animals and habitat. 

Montauk Lighthouse in Long Island, New York

You’ll be able to see the Montauk Lighthouse when you depart on a whale-watching excursion from Long Island.


4. Hilton Head Island, SC

This popular tourist destination is along the migration path for northern right whales, which travel south during winter to calve. These whales can reach lengths of up to 59 feet and weigh nearly 60 tons, with females that often outgrow their male counterparts.

Tourists can explore several options for dolphin and nature tours, and there are recorded sightings of right whales with calves off of Hilton Head Island. 

Right Whale swimming in the atlantic ocean

Hilton Head Island is in the area where pregnant North Atlantic right whales give birth to their calves.


5. Virginia Beach, VA

Humpback sightings are possible in Virginia Beach, which lies along their seasonal migration path. The waters in this area offer a multitude of fish for whales to feed on during their annual southern migration.

Whale tours are typically scheduled during the coldest months, so be sure to pack a jacket. Luckily, whales are often spotted not too far from the shore. Whale watchers can catch glimpses of humpbacks, as well as fin and minke whales. 

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breaching at Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

Scientists aren’t sure why humpback whales breach the water; some theorize that the display is a form of communication.

©Paul S. Wolf/

6. Gulf of Maine, ME

This area is well-known for humpback and finback whale sightings. The Gulf of Maine spans the state’s coast and contains plentiful crabs, fish, and plankton. Strong ocean tides carry in cold water to mix with the dozens of rivers that drain into the gulf, creating an ideal habitat for thousands of species of marine animals. 

The whale watching season in Maine spans from mid-May to October. Tours depart from several locations, including Portland and Kennebunk.

A Enormous Fin Whale's dorsal fin rises above the ocean's surface as it dives in the Gulf of Maine.

The Gulf of Maine is home to humpback, pilot, finback, and minke whales.


7. Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach is a popular vacation spot for its beaches, resorts, and restaurants. Although it is a less common destination for East Coast whale watching, whales have been spotted off the coast of Myrtle Beach. Grab your binoculars and head to your hotel balcony or another high spot for a chance to observe whales slapping their flippers or kickfeeding. 

Sunrise along boardwalk over a sand dune in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

During the winter months, you might catch a glimpse of a whale off the coast of Myrtle Beach.

©Paul Brady Photography/

8. Cape May, NJ

In Cape May, you can embark on a three-hour cruise for a chance to see minke, fin, humpback, and right whales. A marine biologist and naturalist will join your trip to provide information about the animals you see. Along with whales, keep your eyes open for sea turtles, sharks, and stingrays.  

Panorama of beach with Cape May Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey.

Over 200 individual humpback whales were cataloged in Cape May between 2011 and 2022.


9. Bar Harbor, ME

Head to the Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor for a whale-watching cruise that explores along the coast of the park and Mount Desert Island. Minke, humpback, and finback whales are frequent sights in these rich marine waters. You might also see giant tuna, bald eagles, and Atlantic puffins.

Minke whale at Tadoussac Québec

Minke whales can reach speeds of 24 miles per hour in order to escape predators.

©Annie Leblanc/

10. Provincetown, MA

Provincetown is a top choice for whale watchers since it is located on Cape Cod Bay, which is a popular breeding location for North Atlantic right whales. The spring and fall months are the best times to watch for whales in this area. Humpback and Finback whales are especially active from April to October.

Provincetown beach

The economy of Provincetown relied on whale hunting throughout the 19th century.

©Mak_photo/ via Getty Images

11. Lewes, DE

The Great Dune at Cape Henlopen, located in Cape Henlopen State Park, is a popular spot for swimming and also provides an excellent vantage point to scan the waves for signs of whales. You will follow a 1.6-mile trail to reach the dune, followed by an 80-foot climb to reach the top. The view is worth the effort since you’ll be high enough to spot whales if they spout or breach the water.

Cape Henlopen at Entrance to Delaware Bay

The habitats at Cape Henlopen State Park include dunes, beaches, and maritine forests.

©Bruce Goerlitz Photo/

12. Ocean City, MD

Assateague Island National Seashore, located less than 10 miles from Ocean City, offers 37 miles of bike paths, beaches, and undeveloped natural beauty. Humpback whales are occasionally spotted here as they pass by during their seasonal migration. There are limited options in this area for whale-watching cruises, but you can find a spot on the beach to scan the horizon.

Beautiful scenery of the coastal bay off Assateague Island, Worcester County, Maryland.

Assateague Island is home to both a state park and a national seashore.

©Scenic Corner/

13. Highlands, NJ

You can catch a whale-watching cruise in the Highlands to see humpback whales in their natural habitat. Cruises are generally available from May through September and explore the area where waters from several rivers converge, creating an ideal habitat for fish. You can listen as a wildlife expert provides background information about the animals you observe. 

Do Whales Have Hair - Humpback Whale Hair

Humpback whales mostly feed on fish, plankton, and crustaceans.

©Craig Lambert Photography/

14. Amelia Island, FL

Private boat tours can take you to Amelia Island, which is located in the Sea Island Chain at its southernmost end. The area has abundant biodiversity due to its shorelines, tidal marshes, and estuaries. In the deeper waters, whale watchers may spot right whales during their migration, along with manatees and dolphins.

Amelia Island, FL USA - October 21, 2023: The beach at Little Talbot Island State Park near Amelia Island, FL

Amelia Island is considered to be the place where the modern shrimping industry originated.

©Joni Hanebutt/

15. Belmar, NJ

Whale watchers have several options in Belmar when booking cruises. Humpback whales are a frequent sight in this area, along with dolphins and sharks. Be sure to bring your camera to catch pictures of the New York City skyline, which will be visible as you cruise.


While all humpbacks can generate sounds, only male humpbacks produce distinctive and beautiful whale songs.

©Craig Lambert Photography/

16. Tybee Island, GA

Georgia’s coastal waters are an ideal nursery for North Atlantic right whales and their calves. The warm, shallow waters in the area provide the whales with protection from predators and plenty of food during the winter months. There have even been sightings of right whales with month-old calves near Tybee Island!

Northern right whale breaches in water

Northern Atlantic right whales do not have a dorsal fin on their backs.

© Capaldo

17. Outer Banks, NC

Visitors to the Outer Banks have reported seeing humpback, right, and fin whales in the area. Humpback whales are a common sight along the North Carolina coast, especially when they migrate during the spring and fall. Head to Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks for a chance to spot a whale.

Aerial view along North Carolina Outer Banks showing Buxton to Avon. Visitors have reported seeing humpback, right, and fin whales in the area.

©Jason Schronce/

18. Fernandina Beach, FL

The waters off of northeast Florida are home to several species of whales. The best time to spot them is from December to April while the whales are enjoying the warm southern waters before migrating back north. 

Fernandina Beach takes its city’s connection to the right whale seriously. The city’s annual Right Whale Festival is dedicated to raising awareness about right whales and current preservation efforts. 

Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida

Fernandina Beach is along the migration path for Northern Atlantic right whales.

©Madison Y Photo/

Summary of the 18 Best Places to Whale Watch on the U.S. East Coast

#1Cape Cod, MA
#2Jacksonville, FL
#3Long Island, NY
#4Hilton Head Island, SC
#5Virginia Beach, VA
#6Gulf of Maine, ME
#7Myrtle Beach, SC
#8Cape May, NJ
#9Bar Harbor, ME
#10Provincetown, MA
#11Lewes, DE
#12Ocean City, MD
#13Highlands, NJ
#14Amelia Island, FL
#15Belmar, NJ
#16Tybee Island, GA
#17Outer Banks, NC
#18Fernandina Beach, FL

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Maridav/

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About the Author

Joyce Nash is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel and geography. She has almost a decade of writing experience. Her background ranges from journalism to farm animal rescues and spans the East Coast to the West. She is based in North Carolina, and in her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two cats.

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