As it turns out, whales love the waters of the Maine coastline as much as (if not more than) people do. Whale watching in Maine is the perfect activity to experience marine life beyond lobster. You get so much more than just the big mammals. Sharks, seals, dolphins, and maybe some puffins could show up too.
It’s important to know the right time of year and the right locations to get the best whale-watching experience in Maine. Our guide will cover everything that you need to know!
About Whale Watching in Maine
The whale watching season spans April through October. June through August brings the peak whale season. We’d recommend waiting until late May to get the best chance of spotting whales. After October, the whales head south, following the fish to warmer waters.
Maine’s coastal waters are home to various whale species, with the most common sightings being humpback, finback, and minke whales. On a very rare occasion, you might see the largest whale on earth – the blue whale.
Most tours will go 30 to 50 miles offshore and run anywhere from three to six hours. Expect costs to range from $60 to $80 per person. Wear closed-toe shoes and leave alcohol, hard-edged coolers, and glass containers behind. Other things to remember when planning a whale-watching tour include:
- Sighting Guarantee: While it’s unlikely you won’t see any whales on the tour, ensure your operator offers something in that rare event. Usually, there will be a guarantee that provides a free tour on another day.
- Cold & Windy: You’ll need warm clothing when you’re going that far offshore. Temperatures can drop 20 degrees on the water. And, some boats can travel up to 45 mph, so plan for windy conditions.
- Seasickness: If you are prone to seasickness (or if you aren’t sure), take Dramamine or Bonine at least one to two hours before the trip. Be sure to buy the non-drowsy variety.
- Trust Your Captain: Rain won’t stop a whale-watching tour, but rough seas or thunderstorms will. Ideally, plan a trip when the forecast is sunny and clear.
If you’re nervous about being that far out on a boat, one of the tour companies summed this up well as we tried to buy a ticket:
“STOP! If you would not rent a jet ski or go white water rafting (not because you’ll get wet but because we’re an adventure tour), this tour isn’t for you.
Most tour operators have been in business for decades and through generations. They know the seas the best, and some even have nicknames for the whales in the water. Ask as many questions as necessary to get maximum enjoyment before and during the trip.
Where to See Whales in Maine
While a whale-watching tour can depart from any Maine harbor, a select group of cities have the best operators, options, and experiences. Luckily, those pair well with some of the other best things to do in Maine.
Bar Harbor is the anchor town of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, offering yet another amazing Downeast thing to do with several whale-watching tour choices. Also, you’ll have a better chance of seeing puffins when departing from Bar Harbor.
The whale-watching tours out of Boothbay Harbor exude the “getting there is half the fun” vibe, as you’ll pass islands, lighthouses, and so much wildlife before you even get the first splash of a whale tail. Some of the most experienced tour operators work out of this port.
Eastport & Lubec
Eastport offers a unique whale-watching experience, taking you to the Bay of Fundy — known for its high tidal range and rich marine life. You’ll cruise by the largest natural whirlpool on the continent, known as “Old Sow” as well.
TIP: This is the best option to see the rare and endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Kennebunk and Kennebunkport come together at Dock Square as the pulse of summer tourism in Maine, so it’s no surprise this is also the departure port for whale-watching tours. The big crowds here might mean more people vying for tickets.
One of the benefits of a Portland departure is the tour of Casco Bay you get along the way. You’ll pass lighthouses, islands, and possibly a Civil War fort. Seeing the waterfront by boat is also a bonus on the way back.
Operators That Offer Whale Watching Tours in Maine
With so much coastline and numerous harbors throughout the state, it can be difficult to decide where to book your whale-watching tour. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the top and most trusted whale-watching operators in Maine.
1 West St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Conveniently located near the pier in Bar Harbor, this tour operator offers indoor and outdoor space on the boat with a cash-only canteen for snacks. Coloring books for kids can keep them busy since the trip can run nearly six hours. Restrooms are also available on the boat.
NOTE: Bar Harbor Whale Watch is part of Whale SENSE, which exemplifies responsible whale watching.
42 Commercial St, Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538
With a tourism history dating back to the 1930s, you’ll be in good hands with Cap’n Fish’s Cruises. You can select a regular whale-watching tour or pair it with a puffin tour that circles Egg Rock Island. Since whales and puffins overlap seasonally, this is a great option to see amazing wildlife above and below water.
Expect to spend three to four hours on the tour boat. You’ll get the bonus of lighthouse views along the way, giving extra value than booking a separate lighthouse boat tour.
4 Western Ave, Kennebunk, ME 04043
While the address is Kennebunk, First Chance Whale Watch is also near Dock Square, right at the heart of The Kennbunks. With a boat nearly 90 feet long, you’ll get great views on either side. Snacks are available onboard, or you can bring your own.
8 Western Ave, Kennebunk, ME 04043
Just a few doors down, you’ll find The Ultimate Whale Watch with New England EcoAdventures. This tour offers a trifecta of (haunted) Boon Island, seal sightings, and whale watching, with a 97% sighting rate — all in just four hours.
170 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101
Odyssey Whale Watch departs from Old Port in Portland with four-hour tours. The ride includes seabirds escorting you offshore as you pass islands and lighthouses galore. You can score a spot on the upper deck for a little extra.
104 Water St, Eastport, ME 04631
This Eastport tour runs less than three hours but takes you past Old Sow and into the Bay of Fundy, where the highest tidal range in the world (53.6 feet!) is found. You’ll get to see Harbor Head Passage and East Quoddy Lighthouse.
In addition to whale watching, look for ospreys and eagles soaring above. On the way back, the tour turns into a lobstering boat, and you’re welcome to help.
31 Johnson St, Lubec, ME 04652
Touted as “more than a whale watch,” you’ll hop aboard a 25-foot lobster boat and explore Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy. You’ll ride by Old Sow while exploring the sights, including Campobello Island.
TIP: Before you book, ask about the tide schedule and what sights you’ll get during high vs. low tide.
12 Little Island Way, Bass Harbor, ME 04653
On the opposite side of Mount Desert Island comes an option to charter your own tour, including whale watching. You’ll book a sightseeing tour and then discuss your whale goals.
“Whales are most often fairly far from our harbor, but we can take you out to the open ocean to look for them. We have the best luck from Mid July to August. A four hour minimum trip is needed to book if you’d like to specifically look for whales.”
7 Island Ave, Kittery, ME 03904
When you go on a safari to the deep sea, it’s a “seafari,” and Seafari Charters in Kittery is ready to spot some whales with you. The trip includes the option to deep-sea fish or scuba dive. Also, you’ll get a history lesson about the Isles of Shoals (Is Blackbeard’s hidden treasure really there?).
TIP: If you’re visiting early or late in the season or looking for a last-minute activity, check for discounts. We noticed at least one vendor who was offering $20 off a next-day tour.
Have a Whale of a Good Time in Maine
You might wonder if you can captain a boat to watch whales in Maine. If you’re an avid boater and want to explore offshore without a guide, you can certainly do that. You will need to follow all marine life viewing guidelines and laws about whale viewing. Be sure to check dolphins and seal rules as well.
Most private charter services will allow you to build your own boating package, including whale tours. You’ll miss the camaraderie of the tour hosts, but you’ll get one-on-one details from experienced captains. Ask for a recommendation if a preferred vendor doesn’t offer a whale-watching tour.
The Gulf of Maine is being impacted by climate change, which could mean fewer whales in the water. Since most tours offer a free tour if you don’t see whales, be gracious and enjoy the view.
If nothing else, you can take a boat to Monhegan Island. As you get closer, you’ll notice that it’s shaped like a humpback whale.