Whales and Herring on Cape Cod

by Donna Cain

CFI-Front-20140810-0057summer gardens at the Freeman

I think spring is my all time favorite season. My mother always use to say that spring was a time for rebirth. This spring I find myself being thankful for our new owner’s quarters at the Freeman, feeling energized to make a difference in this world and to offer our guests a wonderful experience when they stay at our two inns in Brewster, Brewster by the Sea Inn and Spa and the Captain Freeman Inn.

Since the weather is warming earlier this year we are expecting the whales to be returning soon and for the herring to be “running” at the Gristmill. Both are perfect examples of mother nature at it’s finest.


whale watching at it’s finest!

This “right of spring”  attracts thousands to witness the migration of the alewife (herring) in their quest to return to their spawning grounds. This takes place when the air temperature reaches the low 50’s sometime in late March or early April. There is an incredible frenzy for the herring to work their way up the locks to the pond where they were born. The exact date of the migration is never known in advance, but volunteers watch the skies and the stream for evidence when it is about to begin!

Byron is a wonderful photographer and has gotten some fabulous shots of the herring. It is sometimes a little hard to watch as many of the herring are eaten by the hundreds of seagulls that swarm around the stream that connects to Upper Mill Pond where the herring spawn in the summer. Here is a little slide show of our Brewster attraction:

Grenon-Daley-20120418-0032Thousands of Herring jump up stream

Grenon-Daley-20120418-0046With anxious seagulls waiting for their dinner:)

Grenon-Daley-20120418-0064Herring in flight jumping up the locks


Notice the house that flanks the stream. Their roof turns a magical, smelly white during this time frame. We always laugh as they would never be able to sell this home in the springtime:)

River herring are crucial to our coastal food chain. Many fish and wildlife species eat herring as the herring migrate to their spawning areas. In the ocean, herring also fill an important niche. To protect this species and to monitor the overall health and population
coastal towns with herring runs have programs to actually count the number of herring that run through a particular area. Brewster has taken great pride in taking care of the stream, allowing the herring to have the best chance of reaching their spawning grounds. When we came to Brewster 12 years ago you could get a herring license  to catch the herring with nets. They stopped issuing licenses when they realized the numbers were declining. Happy to report that each year the number of herring running though our Brewster Grist Mill Stream is increasing.

Whale watching continues to be a very popular day adventure for our spring and summer guests. We love to recommend the Dolphin Fleet which runs out of P’Town.

banner11The Dolphin Fleet vessel is specifically designed for whale watching and comfort. The interior cabin has seating for over 100 passengers and the cabin is centrally heated and air-cooled. With many different times to choose from the boat ride lasts for 3-4 hour trips guided by an experienced naturalists. There is a sundeck on the second level and a walk out platform for viewing on the bow.

You can enjoy the natural beauty of the Outer Cape as you depart traveling along the National Seashore, viewing the beaches, lighthouses and the very tip of Cape Cod. Many guests ask us if you will see whales. I think the more important question is how many whales will you see. We have never heard of a guest saying that they did not see any whales and it’s always such a pleasure hearing guest’s glee when they talk about their day adventure of whale watching on Cape Cod.

I have always wondered why the whales breach merrily in the air and have always thought that it’s there way of saying they are happy with all of the plentiful plankton available on the Stellwagon Bank. A more educated explanation is shown below:


Surface behaviors range from low active behaviors such as logging to intermediate active behaviors such as spyhopping and traveling.  More energetic behaviors include flipper slapping, lobtailing, breaching or jumping and kick feeding.  While there are many theories about why whales jump, flipperslap or lobtail, there are no definitive answers.  Theories include exercise, plat, territorial displays, ridding of parasites(grooming), aggression and communication.  However, it is possible that depending on the social and environmental factors, any of these (or a combination) could explain the nature of these spectacular behaviors.

whaleWatch-Ptown-20120606--102Whales and seagulls!

All whale watching trips would not be complete without a cape cod lunch experience at the Lobster Pot. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a fresh lobster and clams, picnic style or a delicious Lobster roll.


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