- Research & Education
- Cape Cod
Dolphin Fleet Whale Watches are unique. Unlike many other whale watches, our trips offers a wide spectrum of educational tools that go beyond the “average whale watch”. All trips are designed to enhance our awareness of whales, other marine life and the marine habitat that surrounds us. Our goal is to have each passenger depart our vessels with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the wealth of life it supports. This page will depict some of the activities we bring to a voyage aboard our vessel. We make each trip fun and educational for passengers of all ages.
The Dolphin VII is one of the four vessels that departs from Provincetown harbor to the Sanctuary. Each vessel has a heated cabin for those cool days in the spring and fall months assuring comfort for each trip and air conditioned for those hot summer days. Upon boarding our vessels field guides are available in multiple languages detailing the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the marine life you may encounter.These guides will also explain the important role The Dolphin Fleet had in developing and being the first whale watching excursion on the east-coast of the United States.
The Dolphin VIII offers the same comforts as the Dolphin VII. During each trip all four vessels are in communication, and at times may travel to different locations in search of whales and other marine life. Being a fleet, this constant communication and ability to broaden our search gives us an advantage of finding the best whale behavior and other species of marine life. Covering larger areas of the sanctuary and surrounding waters to find the most productive areas is an essential part of a successful whale watch.
The Dolphin IX also built by Gulfcraft Inc. offers ample seating on the upper deck for those who like lots of sunshine. This vessel is also able to carry over 250 passengers comfortably and has been refurbished to Dolphin Fleet standards. With upgraded electronics and a flying bridge, it allows our passengers even more viewing space from the second level.
The Dolphin X is the newest in the fleet, With ample seating and a walk out bowsprit like the other vessels. From here you can get the feeling of floating over the water. Each of the four vessels have clean snack bars with seating inside that serves a full breakfast and lunch menu. Our boats are also licensed to sell alcoholic beverages so while on the cruise you can sit back and enjoy, we have your needs covered.
As the vessel departs Provincetown harbor, one of our highly trained naturalists will give a presentation about the whales we may see,their behavior, and some of the other marine life common to the area. Posters and other materials are used to further illustrate the various whale species, behaviors, and interesting facts on the biology and geology of the area.
There are many hands-on displays for our passengers to view and touch . Feel the baleen from a whales mouth or see the size of a whales vertebra. Inside the main cabin are displays and a kiosk to explore more in depth information of the history and habitat you will be visiting. The trip brings a new level of understanding to many of our first time passengers of how these magnificent animals adapt and survive.
Oftentimes, we see large numbers of birds during our trips, such as these northern gannets diving into the water after their prey. Many of the birds we see are pelagic and can only be viewed off-shore by boat. During the 2006 season we began a new research program for collecting data on pelagic bird sightings. Our naturalists conduct a weekly observation and bird species count, a program we designed for the enthusiastic bird watchers who sail with us on these selective trips. And no two trips are ever alike! It keeps the trips interesting and our anticipation growing. We plan on continuing these special trips in the future. If interested, be sure to inquire for dates and times.
Believe it or not we may even stop to see a fish or two. This is a photo of a sunfish or Mola mola, a species that eats the jellyfish found in our waters. The Sanctuary is a rich environment that attracts and supports both residents and transient marine life. Other larger species we might see include basking sharks, blue sharks and the giant blue fin tuna.
One of our favorite whales sighted throughout the year is the humpback. Our naturalists conduct research on the whales seen, photographing each whale to be identified and cataloged yearly. Many of the humpback whales we see yearly return with newborn calves. This is exciting for us as well as the passengers.The calves are often curious and will investigate the boats while the mother is busy feeding, giving us up close and a personal experience with the whales.We can then get photos of the new whale for our research. We have a catalog of known humpback whales on board our vessels for reference, as well as on-line to be viewed by our passengers. It is fun and educational for all to find a whale they have seen or to learn about a whale’s family tree.
Once this scientific information is put into our database, it is then openly shared with other interested scientists, schools and organizations. For the school groups that go out with us, we offer a copy of the data collected on their trip. We feel this is an important learning tool that extends the whale watch experience to the classroom. A simple request from the school group for the trip data is all that is needed.
Humpback whales are not the only species sighted. Some of the others include:
During our trip we often will drop a plankton net into the water. With this large, fine meshed net we can collect many microscopic species of marine plankton, the building block of the food chain for the sanctuary. Once dropped and towed for a few minutes, samples are collected and put out for display under magnifiers. This brings a new aspect of the marine waters we visit to the trip. It is possible to collect organisms such as jellyfish and tenophores, zooplankton, and other life forms overlooked when sailing on the ocean.
We want our passengers to see not only the largest marine mammal living in our waters but also to understand why the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and other marine sanctuaries like it are so important to preserve and protect.
If conditions permit and we believe the situation is right, we may also deploy a hydrophone (underwater microphone) to see if we can hear the sounds of the whales or other noises that may be heard below the surface.
Another fun hands-on activity is our “blubber glove” this experiment gives our passengers an understanding of why the whales need a layer of blubber to survive in the cold ocean waters.
Our cabin houses the educational display case. You can look at the many different science activities here. One of the items is our touch screen display. This is filled with information about whales, birds, conservation efforts and more.
Another activity is the whale sounds. Listen to the many different species of whales and see how each animal has it’s own vocalizations. It’s interesting for all ages. Listen to the many different humpback sounds or the finback and right whales. Then listen to the sounds of toothed whales. It’s amazing how these animals use acoustics to live in the ocean.
Want more activity? There is a chart plotter for you to view. Here you can see where the vessel is at all times, track your position as well as the location of the whales. This is a great educational tool for all. The plotter also has a bathymetrical display showing the contour of the ocean bottom as the vessel travels along. With this display, you will have a better understanding of why the whales and other marine life find Stellwagen Bank, with all its contours, the place to be.