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Types of Whales

Types of Whales in Cape Cod, MA

During whale watching tours with Captain John Boats, you’ll learn about the many types of whales that frequent the Cape Cod waters and likely see at least one of these species. We’ve compiled some information below about the types of whales most common to our area, so you can start learning about the majestic creatures you’ll see out on the water.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are well known for their common sightings off the coast of New England and their acrobatic displays. Humpbacks tend to leap out of the water in a display known as breaching and are often seen performing other surface displays such as flipper-slapping, tail-lobbing, and tail-breaching. These stunning activities make the humpback whale a favorite for whale watchers. They are generally up to 55 feet in length and are most often found from March to November, feeding on krill, small fish, and plankton.

Finback Whales

The finback whale grows up to 80 feet in length and frequents the same areas as the humpback whale, but not always at the same time. These whales are distinguished by their grayish, sleek appearance with a tall, curved dorsal fin. Their streamlined build allows them to swim much faster than humpback whales despite their size, and they can live up to 80 or 90 years. Finbacks mostly eat small schooling fish, like sand lance, herring, young mackerel, and krill. They can be difficult to get a close look at, however, due to their speed and natural shyness.

Minke Whales

Minke whales are much smaller than some of their New England counterparts, reaching only up to 30 feet in length and often just 15 to 20 feet. These whales typically traverse the same areas as humpbacks and finbacks, but they sometimes frequent shallower waters. The minke whale is similarly curious as humpbacks, often approaching idling boats and making for a breathtaking, up-close viewing experience.

Pilot Whales

Pilot whales are less common than some of the other types of whales, but they are still usually seen every season. These whales are also on the small side, typically around 20 feet long. They tend to travel in large pods of up to 20 whales, relating more to dolphins than other whales. They feed on dogfish, cod, and other species, diving down to great depths mostly at night for their feedings.

Right Whales


The North Atlantic right whale is endangered and very rare to see, with only about 300 remaining in the wild. They are a stocky, mostly black whale growing up to 60 feet long and featuring rough white patches on their heads. If these rare whales are spotted, your whale watch crew will likely keep a greater distance to help continue to protect these endangered creatures. Even from a distance, however, a sighting of one of these beauties is a memorable, stunning experience.