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Cape Cod

Melville Coast
Cape Cod
Things To Do

Cape Cod is the grand finale of your Melville Coast whaling expedition. After reading Moby Dick and seeing whaling ships, towns, museums and art, this is where you come to actually see the great animals themselves. As soon as the Pilgrims arrived at the Cape, they began seeing whales in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. 400 years later, some species still spend Winter and Spring here and other species take their places for Summer and Fall. This is because of the Stellwagen Bank, a reef extending northward from Provincetown Harbor to Gloucester, and another series of shallows on the Nantucket side, named The Great South Channel. 10,000 years ago, the Stellwagen Bank was an extension of Cape Cod, almost closing off Massachusetts Bay and rejoining the mainland at Gloucester. As the glaciers melted, the ocean rose, flooding the Bank. But in that shallow warmer water, the world's greatest concentration of plankton thrives. In turn, it attracts a huge variety of ocean organisms, the largest of which are whales. (The Bank is also the reason this is the world's richest fishing ground.)

As America has become fascinated with whales, whalewatching cruises have become popular. They are run out of many places along the North Atlantic. But those places are much further from whaling grounds. They have to travel further to see whales and the populations are much sparser. From Provincetown, you are only a few miles from the Banks, and the whale concentration is intense. You don't even have to take one of the cruises. You can often see whales breaching and spouting from the beaches. But to get really close up, get good pictures, and learn about them from professional cetologists, you need a whalewatching cruise. From the docks in Provincetown, several compete for your business.

We recommend Portugese Princess Excursions. These are run by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, a non profit research, conservation and education center. Located in Provincetown because of its proximity to the Stellwagen Banks, the Center has long specialized in tagging, tracking, studying, photographing, treating and sometimes rescuing all species of whales. For example, the Center has developed methods of untangling whales from fishing nets, and since 1984 has freed 85 large whales, 35 sea turtles, 23 seals and 18 porpoises. The center has airplanes and research vessels which it uses for annual aerial surveys,. sampling and and continued remapping of the ever changing coastal and underwater terrain. The Center currently tracks 1800 individual whales in their movements locally and around the world. Many college graduate students have done research at the Center. Species with concentrated populations in Cape Cod Bay which have been researched by the Center are plankton, copepods, blue shark, basking sharks, harbor seals, bluefin tuna, sand lance, petrels, gannets, Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Finback Whales, Pilot Whales, dolphin, porpoises, oysters, scallops, cod, halibut, squid, octopus, and sea turtles. This is the largest concentration of marine life on the planet, rivalled only by the Georges Bank, another reef slightly north of the Stellwagen Bank. In addition to intense research in Cape Cod Bay, the Center also researches Georges Bank, Massachusetts Bay, the Great South Channel, Nantucket Bay, Jeffreys Ledge, and the smaller ledges and banks off New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia. As part of its mission the Center offers programs for college, high school, junior high and elementary school students and teachers.
The Princess boats go out seven days a week May - October except in violent weather. Most take half day trips, which are $30 for individual adults, $22 for kids 5-12, and of course discounts for groups, especially schools. The morning trips offer an additional $3 discount per person. There are also afternoon and evening cruises. The boats are fast, modern, and comfortable, with excellent viewing decks and indoor seating areas. Galleys offer hot and cold beverages, bagels, pizza, and chowder. You are not only guaranteed to see whales, you are guaranteed to get so close you will touch them, get splashed by them, or at least get excellent photos. School groups receive pretrip lectures by PCCS scientists, data collection during the trip and post trip analysis.

If you want more, it's available. They offer all day ecological tours where in addition to whales you study seabirds and other marine animals. They offer day long excursions into the Great South Channel (southeast of Nantucket). They offer an overnight trip to Nantucket with onshore lodging and special focus on seals. By advance request, they will tailor a trip to fit the specific needs of your group. They can teach your kids about modern electronic equipment for charting course and depth and listening to whale sounds. They can help you sample plankton and view it under the microscope. They can work with photographers. The most incredible offering of all is a weeklong midsummer trip where you can receive academic credit. Individuals, families and small groups do not need advance reservations but larger groups do. 1-800-442-3188. www.princess whalewatch.com.

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