Although we are lucky in Cape May to be able to see amazing sea creatures like dolphins and whales from the shore, the viewing is much more spectacular out on the water. Let us break down the types of dolphin, seal, and whale watching tours in Cape May, NJ. We will also let you know what time of year to expect the best viewing, along with exactly what types of whales, dolphins, and seals you might see.
This is a popular activity that you are going to want to book every year you visit Cape May, so make sure you make your reservations in advance. If you need help planning your trip, don’t hesitate to ask us at Carroll Villa Hotel when you are booking your room. We are happy to help.
Best Season for Tours
You may notice that there are tours available throughout much of the year. If you are interested in seeing whales you should know that the types of whales that visit the waters around Cape May are migratory, so they are most likely to be seen between May and August. During the late summer and early fall, most of the whales (though not all) are moving south to warmer waters, so be aware of this when you book. Dolphins are also more plentiful during the spring and summer months. Seals visit during the opposite time of year, and you will generally see them during the colder months. Seals are most visible after they have eaten when they come out of the water to rest.
Types of Cetaceans and Seals You Might See
The Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean near Cape May are full of marine life, partly because of the mix of fresh and saltwater currents. Both whales and dolphins are cetaceans. Cetaceans are then broken into two categories, toothed whales (including dolphins, porpoises, and sperm whales) and baleen whales (including humpbacks, fin whales, and blue whales). Baleen whales have a plate-like structure in their mouths that allow them to gulp huge amounts of water and prey, then filter out the water.
There are four kinds of whales that may be seen off the coast of Cape May. They are humpbacks, finbacks, common minke whales, and northern right whales. The most commonly seen of these is the humpback. Adult humpbacks are 36 – 52 feet longer, females are slightly larger than males. They weigh in between 30 – 45 tons. Interestingly, most of the humpbacks seen along the Jersey shore are immature males. The most exciting behavior that you may see is called “breaching,” which is when the whale dives below the surface for a few minutes, then surfaces vertically with great speed. The animal may twist in mid-air and then crash down into the waves.
Finbacks are less common, but more spectacular, as they are among the largest of the whales. They are difficult to spot, and also difficult to differentiate from the humpbacks. Sometimes the easiest way to tell the difference is through the size and shape of the spout, which is taller and more vertical (up to 20 feet).
Dolphins and Porpoises
Playful dolphins and porpoises are a common sight along the shore; sometimes they will come right up to, and follow a boat. First, what is the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise? They actually two different mammals. Dolphins have bulbous heads and clearly defined beaks on their face. Porpoises have a rounder head, with a less pronounced beak.
The dolphins that you are most likely to see along the Jersey shore are the bottleneck, short-beaked common dolphins, striped dolphins, and Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Timid harbor porpoises are the only type of porpoise that you may see. People are most familiar with the bottleneck dolphins, famous from the old TV series, “Flipper.”
The two types of seals that can be seen on the Jersey shore in colder weather are grey seals and harbor seals. Grey seals range in size from 7 to 10 feet long, and weigh from females at 550 pounds to 880 pounds for males. They have large horse-like heads. Harbor seals are smaller, from 5 – 7 feet long, weighing about 285 pounds. Seals are most visible sunning on rocky shores following a full feeding session.
There are three main tour operators in Cape May.
- Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center is the original eco-tour operation. They emphasize their boat as a research center versus an entertainment center, with passengers engaging as part of ongoing research.
- Cape May Whale Watcher has a variety of tours from which to choose, including a 3-hour Cetacean Cruise, a Sunset Cruise, and a Dinner Cruise. They offer a “Marine Mammal Siting” guarantee.
- Thunder Cat Dolphin Watch specializes in up-close tours for viewing dolphins aboard a smaller catamaran speedboat.
Now that you have an idea of the wonderful sea animals that you may be able to view on dolphin, seal, and whale watching tours in Cape May, NJ, it’s time to plan your trip! Book your room at the Carroll Villa Hotel, plan an amazing dinner at the Mad Batter Restaurant and plan your day out on the water! We cannot wait to see you.