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8 Great Lakes and Northeast Marine Wildlife Viewing Experiences You Can’t Miss

Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland

8 Great Lakes and Northeast Marine Wildlife Viewing Experiences You Can’t Miss

By: Elizabeth Moore

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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  • States:
    Michigan
    New York
    Massachusetts
    Rhode Island
    Maine
    New Jersey
    Delaware
    Maryland

Don’t let urban centers like New York City fool you into thinking you won’t see marine wildlife in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States.

For travelers ready to explore these coastlines, the abundance of memorable wildlife viewing opportunities, including the eight showcased below, will satisfy your inner adventurer.

Near Tawas, Michigan

Sunrise Coast Birding Trail

Along Michigan’s Sunrise Coast of Lake Huron, bordering Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail provides opportunities to see rare and endangered birds such as the Great Lakes piping plover. Enjoy the raptor spring migration from March through May across the Straits of Mackinac. Start your trip at the north end in the coastal village of Mackinaw City, or amid the natural beauty of Tawas City at the birding trail’s southern end. Use this guide to find your own favorite bird-watching spot.

Near Boston, Massachusetts

Humpback, Fin and Minke Whales

Humpback whales grace Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which was recently voted the best place to see aquatic wildlife in the U.S.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is the epicenter of whale watching along the Massachusetts coastline. Join the whales for the warm weather April through October, and witness some of the acrobatic behaviors of humpback whales, like breaching or tail slapping. Get a closer look on one of the many whale-watching tours that leave from historic ports along the coast.

 

Gray Seals

Once hunted to near extinction for their oil and fur, gray seals thankfully started receiving protection in the 1970s and have since grown in numbers. The largest seal population on the East Coast can be found near Chatham, Massachusetts, on the elbow of Cape Cod.

Humpback whales grace Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which was recently voted the best place to see aquatic wildlife in the U.S.

Humpback whales grace Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which was recently voted the best place to see aquatic wildlife in the U.S.
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Anne Smrcina, NOAA

Near Augusta, Maine

Puffins

You’d have a hard time finding a bird more adorable than the round-bellied, orange-beaked and -footed puffin. This seabird was hunted nearly to extinction. Then, in the 1970s, efforts began to restore the species to its historic breeding grounds on the islands off Maine. Though the islands are closed to the public to protect the breeding puffins, you can still take a gander at these endearing birds by taking a boat tour from New Harbor and Boothbay Harbor, both of which are an hour or less drive from Maine’s capital of Augusta.

More information

Near New York City, New York

Piping Plovers

New York City is one of the largest cities in the U.S., yet it still holds a surprising array of wildlife, including migratory birds passing through Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Central Park. Each summer, threatened piping plovers, those plump little birds running along the waves on the beach, also make an appearance, nesting and rearing chicks on Rockaway Beach.

Piping plovers are a threatened species in the U.S. You can see them near New York’s Rockaway Beach.

Piping plovers are a threatened species in the U.S. You can see them near New York’s Rockaway Beach.
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National Park Service

Near Baltimore, Maryland

Tundra Swans and Bald Eagles

From late November to March, tundra swans arrive at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge for winter before beginning their spring migrations. They’re best viewed from the Tundra Swan Boardwalk at the refuge. Bald eagles, the U.S. national symbol, are year-round residents and can be spotted along the hiking trails and other areas of the refuge.

Near New Jersey and Delaware

Horseshoe Crabs

Every May and June, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs, one of the most ancient creatures on the planet, come ashore in Delaware Bay to spawn. Overharvesting and loss of habitat have significantly reduced the population of horseshoe crabs. Your best chance of seeing them is during high tide on nights of new moons and full moons. If you want to enjoy horseshoe crabs and make sure they’re around for future visits, consider volunteering for a horseshoe crab survey in Delaware or rescuing crabs in New Jersey.

Horseshoe crabs are one of nature's oldest surviving species.

Horseshoe crabs are one of nature's oldest surviving species.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Along the North Atlantic Coast

Sharks

You’ll find blue sharks and mako sharks enjoying the waters off the North Atlantic seaboard all year-round, while white sharks only visit during summer. Tour operators near Nantucket, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Montauk, New York, can help you see sharks in a safe, responsible manner. For a guaranteed sighting — and stroking — of epaulette sharks and Atlantic rays, consider a visit to the New England Aquarium.

Wherever you go, please follow basic ocean etiquette to view these wonderful creatures in a way that protects them, their habitats and you.

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Waterfall and vivid fall foliage in Anderson Japanese Gardens
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Destination

Rockford