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Spotlight: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Massachusetts

Spotlight: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Massachusetts

Most of the one million whale watchers along the East Coast launch from Stellwagen each year

Stellwagen Bank A breaching humpback whale tail in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (NOAA)

What You’ll Find

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is one of the top whale watching destinations in the world. This 842-square-mile (638-square nautical-mile) protected area accounts for about 80 percent of the whale watching along the East Coast. One of the many whales you’ll find here is the humpback which returns every summer to feast on sand lance (a type of fish commonly called “sand eel”) and to teach their young how to hunt.

Here you can see the newly restored Charles W. Morgan; the world’s only remaining wooden whaler, the last of an American whaling fleet and a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1841, the Morgan embarked on 37 multi-year voyages over a span of 80 years. Today the Morgan is docked at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, is open to visitors and sails as an ambassador for all whales and for ocean conservation worldwide.

Stellwagen Bank is one of 14 sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System in the United States.

Getting There

Stellwagen is located offshore at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay between Cape Ann and Cape Cod National Seashore. It is in the southwest corner of the Gulf of Maine and 25 miles east of Boston.

The headquarters offices are located in Scituate, Massachusetts. Take a New England road trip or fly into Boston's Logan Airport to reach the sanctuary visitor centers. You’ll have to go on a boat ride to participate in sanctuary activities like whale watching, fishing and diving, which can be accessed from many nearby ports, including Provincetown, Plymouth, Gloucester and Boston.

Make Sure You

Experience close encounters with whales, respectfully and safely. NOAA partners with commercial whale watching companies participating in the Whale Sense Program which recognizes companies committed to responsible whale watching practices.

Shipwreck divers can explore more than 50 sites within the sanctuary. Check our Underwater Graveyard go list for more amazing places that feature our nation’s maritime history.

Don’t Forget

Pack for changing New England weather. Summertime and fall are gorgeous here—but the weather can, at times, be unpredictable. Bring waterproof raingear and pack clothes that you can layer. Help protect the sanctuary by practicing good ocean etiquette. Use these tips for whale watching to help you enjoy your visit. Learn how to treat the ocean and how to interact with wildlife so we can protect this delicate ecosystem.

Did You Know?

The World Wildlife Fund identified Stellwagen as one of the top 10 whale watching sites in the world. During summer, humpback whales delight watchers with acrobatic displays, graceful dives and active feeding behaviors. You can see finbacks, the largest of the common local species and second largest animal on the planet regularly. While the humpback and finback are endangered species, the minke whale is more plentiful worldwide. The minke is hunted today by whaling nations.