No matter how old you are, seeing seals at the beach or on a boat tour is an unforgettable experience. These marine mammals are just so cute when they splash around and poke their heads up out of the water, and even while they sunbathe on the sand — especially the pups.
If you’ve never had the chance to see seals or you want to see them again, head to Cape Cod. The outer peninsula is usually teeming with them, and there are several Cape Cod seal tours that you can book.
- Chatham Lighthouse Beach | photo courtesy of @sarahblodgettphoto
Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about the seal species that you can expect to see.
Important Things to Know About Cape Cod Seals
In general, you can see seals on Cape Cod any time of year but you’ll see many during the breeding season, which is between September and March. The peak period is September and October as large numbers of them arrive on the islands. You may see Cape Cod seals sleep on the sandy or rocky shores when they have pups or when they’re looking for warmth. But they can sleep in the water too.
Another fact to know is that seals and sea lions are two different animals. Seals don’t have external ears, but sea lions do. Also, true seals can’t rotate their back flippers like sea lions can, which makes them look like they “walk” on land. Instead, they scoot across the sand or rocks to get where they want.
On Cape Cod, it’s possible to see five species of seals. The two most common are harbor and gray seals, but you could come across harp, ringed, and hooded seals in the winter and spring. Keep reading to learn how to identify each species.
- Harbor Seals — Born between May and June, harbor seals have puppy-like faces with small and pointed snouts and a definite brow. They’re relatively small at about 5 feet long, and their bodies are light underneath and brown to gray on top with irregular spots all over. Their front flippers have small claws, while their back flippers have tiny claws.
- Gray Seals — The largest seals found on Cape Cod, gray seals can be 7-8 feet long and weigh more than 600-800 pounds (the females are smaller than the males). The females are light with dark spots, while the males are dark with a few light spots. All gray seals have long, broad snouts. Pups are usually born from late December to mid-February.
- Harp Seals — Although rare on Cape Cod, harp seals are about 5.5 feet long and weigh around 280 pounds. The pups go through several appearance changes as they age. As adults, they have white to light gray coats with dark brown patches on the head and back. The markings might form a musical harp, which is where the name comes from.
- Ringed Seals — Even more rare to see on the peninsula, ringed seals are the smallest seals in the area at about 4.5 feet long and 150 pounds. Their coats are typically a cream color on the bottom and dark gray on top with a constellation of rings on the head and back. They have short but strong front flippers with long, curved claws because they prefer landfast ice. If you see a ringed seal on Cape Cod, it’s probably a juvenile that has wandered off.
- Hooded Seals — Like ringed seals, hooded seals are pretty rare on the peninsula. While females grow to 7 feet and 350 pounds, males can be 8 feet and 600 pounds. All adults are white or silvery blue with dark brown spots. The distinguishing feature is the inflatable sac that droops from the males’ noses, forming a black hood when inflated during mating season or to defend their territory. The males also have a red inner lining in their noses that they can inflate outward.
Get the Full Experience With Cape Cod Seal Tours
To do more than see seals, you can book a seal cruise with a handful of nearby boat tour operators. It’s a fantastic way to get close to these marine mammals and see other wildlife on the waters around Cape Cod.
Monomoy Island Excursions
From Harwich Port, Monomoy Island Excursions navigates the Perseverance boat through narrow channels and into isolated lagoons around Monomoy Island. The island is home to thousands of gray seals, so you’re likely to see them swimming around and laying on the shoreline. The tour is about 1.5 hours, during which a trained naturalist educates you about the seals and other wildlife. Monomoy Island Excursions offer seal tours as well as private charters.
Monomoy Island Ferry
Offering the fastest Cape Cod seal tours around Monomoy Island is the Monomoy Island Ferry. It departs from the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Chatham and has been the closest launching point to the seals since 1989. You’ll ride on the Rip Ryder for about 2 hours, learning about the seals and other wildlife along the way, such as the piping plover, roseate tern, and American oystercatcher. Also, you’ll get up-close views of Stage Harbor Lighthouse and the Nantucket Sound. Seal tours and private tours are available.
Beachcomber Boat Tours
Operating Cape Cod seal tours in bright yellow beachcomber boats, Beachcomber Boat Tours is located in Chatham. Transportation is provided to the boats at Ryder’s Cove. The cruises explore Pleasant Bay and the waterways between Chatham Lighthouse, North Beach, and the break. In addition to the picturesque beaches and harbors, you’ll see seals, birds, and other wildlife. The adventure lasts about 1.5 hours. Several tours depart on a daily basis in July and August months. June and September schedules are not set in advance. Private tours are available and are Beachcomber Boat Tours’ specialty.
Outermost Harbor Marine
For more Chatham-based Cape Cod seal tours, head to Outermost Harbor Marine. It has one of the best launching spots in the area for seeing the seals along the inner channels of Chatham Harbor. The 24-foot boat can fit up to 15 people and quietly moves among the seals as they swim around in the shallow water. The cruises last about 1 hour.
Blue Claw Boat Tours
From Orleans, Blue Claw Boat Tours provides Cape Cod seal tours on the Orleans River to Pleasant Bay and Chatham Harbor. The 1-hour, 45-minute cruises include historical facts about more than seals. You’ll hear about buried treasure and pirates, great white sharks, Native Americans, Pilgrims, and shipwrecks during the narration. The ride stops by the Chatham Fish Pier where the local fishing fleet is hard at work. Off-season cruises are available and may be scheduled.
Best Places to See Seals on Cape Cod
If you prefer to search for seals yourself over choosing one of the Cape Cod seal tours, you can find them all along the Cape Cod National Seashore from Chatham to Provincetown. However, there are several places where they tend to gather more, especially less crowded areas. There isn’t a specific time of day that’s best to see seals, but they tend to break for land in the late afternoon and early evening.
Of all the towns on Cape Cod, Chatham is renowned for having the most seals. They tend to come out of the water in the early evening. But, where are the seals in Chatham? As mentioned, the majority of the seals hang around Monomoy Island, which is about 9.5 miles from the mainland and only accessible by boat.
To see Cape Cod seals on the mainland, head to Chatham Fish Pier. You can usually see seals from the observation deck as the fishermen return home and throw out unused bait. While you watch, you can eat some chowder, lobster bisque, lobster rolls, and other fresh seafood from the Chatham Pier Fish Market.
Chatham Lighthouse Beach is another potential spot for Cape Cod seals. The spectacular view of the lighthouse is a bonus. Plus, you can walk to the south end of the beach to see the Shack, which is a living sculpture built of shipwreck debris that has washed ashore.
Nauset Beach in Orleans
A little farther north, Nauset Beach is a 10-mile stretch of sand where you can go swimming, surfing, and fishing. Sometimes, the seals aren’t shy at all and will approach swimmers. Just use caution because it’s not always safe to swim with seals.
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham
If you follow Nauset Beach north, you’ll come to Coast Guard Beach with only a narrow waterway to separate the two. A nearby salt marsh is a good place to observe the seals in the winter, alongside various seabirds.
Ballston Beach in Truro
Even farther up the Cape Cod arm, Ballston Beach is a quiet stretch of sand where some seals like to hang out. You have to hike a little to get to the sand, but you’re rewarded with unspoiled land and large dunes.
Best Place to Stay During Cape Cod Seal Tours
Located in Brewster, Candleberry Inn bed and breakfast on Cape Cod is about equal distance from one side of Cape Cod to the other. All of the seal cruises and places where seals like to hang out are just a short drive away.
Additionally, you’ll have convenient access to a multitude of other things to do, such as whale watching on Cape Cod. Before each adventure, you can indulge in a fresh, locally sourced breakfast in our elegant dining room or on our lovely patio.
Planning your next luxury Cape Cod getaway & Cape Cod seal tours starts with checking our availability.