( Provincetown )
People know Race Point Lighthouse as one of the quintessential symbols of Provincetown and the Outer Cape. What is less well known is that it is also one of the best spots on the Cape—and most likely the East Coast—to see right whales up close. “They’re literally right there, maybe 50 yards off shore,” says Jesse Mechling, marine education director of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. “It is bar none the best place to see some of the most endangered animals on the planet.” Right whales typically arrive off our shores anywhere from February to April. “They usually peak at the end of March or the beginning of April, but can come earlier,” says Mechling. “Last year, we had more right whales in the bay in February than we usually see.” The best way to reach the lighthouse is by walking through Hatches Harbor, a salt marsh in the process of being restored. (One effect of the restoration is the control of Phragmites, an invasive species of grass.)
Following an old fire road for about a mile and a half, the flat, hard-packed dirt makes for an easy walk through dunes, cranberry bogs, and freshwater wetlands. Look out for plovers in the spring, while terns arrive later in summer. The best time to go is in good weather when it’s not too windy. Mechling recommends checking the PCCS Facebook page, where the organization posts updates on recent right whale sightings. PCCS also offers weekly walks and tours starting in March and April. Viewing the whales from land can be preferable. “Many people don’t realize that it’s illegal to get close to right whales,” Mechling says. “If you’re on the water, you can’t get within 500 yards. So on land is actually a better way to see them.” And if you can’t make it to Race Point Light, the parking lot at Herring Cove Beach is the next best vantage point. For more information, go to coastalstudies.org.