Cape Cod and Woods Hole: Oceanography and Natural History

Alongside scientists and local experts, gain a comprehensive understanding of Cape Cod’s natural wonders, exploring its geography, marine life and historic research centers.
Rating (4.5)
Program No. 16765RJ
4 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Flexed like an arm jutting out into the Atlantic from Massachusetts, Cape Cod was formed by glaciers and changed through the ages by rising and falling seas. The Cape is cherished today as a place of extraordinary natural beauty, and the home of notable scientific institutions based at Woods Hole Village including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Marine Biological Laboratory and The Woods Hole Science Aquarium, the oldest marine aquarium in the country. Join us to learn about Cape Cod, its natural history and advanced scientific research.
Activity Level
On Your Feet
Walking up to one mile daily on flat and uneven terrain outdoors, such as sandy beaches. Boarding a boat from a short ramp, stepping over a railing and down a few steps.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Encounter scientists and their work at the Marine Biological Laboratory, the oldest independent marine laboratory in the Americas, where 54 MBL-affiliated scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
  • At the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the largest independent oceanographic research institution in the U.S., see a full-scale exhibit on ALVIN — the deep sea sub of “Titanic” fame with old parts from the original sub.
  • Explore the Woods Hole Aquarium, and partake in a scientific cruise on a fishing and research vessel with local marine experts.

General Notes

For a similar program with an environmental focus, please see, "Our Changing Planet: Oceanography & Natural History on Cape Cod” (#23857), part of the Our Changing Planet series.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Alan Kuzirian
Alan Kuzirian is an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. He conducts his laboratory research at the Marine Resource Center, exploring the functional morphology and ultrastructure of various organ systems in mollusks. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and a doctorate in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Susan Maloof
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Alan Kuzirian
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Cape Cod Bay: A History of Salt & Sea
by Theresa Barbo
Anyone familiar with East coast maps will recognize Cape Cod Bay, but ask yourself how well do you know its history? Cape Cod Bay is the southernmost reach of the Gulf of Maine and is a vibrant ecosystem and a wealth of biodiversity. Formed by an ancient, retreating glacier, its waters that run counter-clockwise have been the reluctant host to pirates and welcome point of landing to weary and lost Plymouth colonists. In the 17th century, codfish in Cape Cod Bay measured at least four feet and when cooked in butter, the dish made for a fine lunch according to John Pory, a European trade representative who visited Plymouth Colony in 1622. “No place in the world that can match it,” he wrote of Cape Cod Bay. Indeed, the early days of the Plymouth Colony and generations afterward along the shores of Cape Cod Bay reveal an emerging culture defined by ambition, fortitude and commitment. Native Americans rendered fat from whales along Barnstable Harbor. Later, though, white settlers dismantled the Native culture in only several generations, Native village by Native village, till finally their ancestral sands were gone forever. Cape Cod sea captains sailed small schooner or “packet” boats between Boston and towns lining Cape Cod Bay. The British Navy patrolled Cape Cod Bay during the War of 1812, making this iconic waterway a dangerous war zone. In 1905, a large wooden sailing ship was iced-in for days after parts of Cape Cod Bay froze. Later, Prohibition-era rumrunners outfitted their boat with an airplane engine until finally they were apprehended. The stories go on and on. Be enriched by this first-ever history of Cape Cod Bay and see why its waters are forever mysterious, beautiful, and hauntingly interesting. Unique appendices by local, state and federal subject-matter experts including scientists shed contemporary context against the backdrop of the bay’s maritime history.
Cape Cod Wildlife: A History of Untamed Forests, Seas and Shores
by Theresa Barbo
In 1837 a milestone went unclaimed in Cape Cod history: the last black bear on this sandy peninsula saw its final morning. Wolves were gone in New England by 1850, and from Cape Cod way long before that when colonists were paid a bounty to kill them in the 17th century. Well into the 19th century, wild animals were considered a nuisance. One cool morning in late fall 1877 Isaac Sears of East Dennis awoke piping mad. Overnight, a fox that favored poultry had devoured every chicken in his henhouse and that fox, too, saw its last morning. And that’s the way wildlife was treated in yesteryear: if animals bothered people or competed with us for food in any way, we killed them. Today, so much is different. A conservation movement is afoot to save the turtles that would have been cooked into soup 150 years ago, for example. Indeed, the human imprint toward wild creatures and their habitats has evolved into a kinder, more understanding presence. In a civil society, we embrace the concept that wildlife provides intrinsic value to Cape Cod. In fact, the protective framework on local, state and federal levels has never been stronger or friendly to our wild brethren. This first-ever book on human attitudes and actions toward wildlife on Cape Cod by Historian Theresa Barbo includes chapters on invasive species, freshwater fish restoration, whales and other cetaceans. Songbirds and birds of prey including falcons, hawks, osprey and eagles round out this book, all conveyed in an interesting narrative that will enrich, entertain and educate. After reading it, you may look at wildlife through a fresh lens.
Cape Cod Companion: The History and Mystery of Old Cape Cod
by James Coogan and Jack Sheedy
A multicolored canvas of Cape Cod history and legends, Cape Cod Companion traces the story of the Narrow Land from its formation over ten thousand years ago, to the arrival of European explorers during the seventeenth century, and on to the fascinating tales of sea captains, unusual characters, witches, ghosts, and events both familiar and forgotten. With over two dozen photographs, and over 50 stories, the book is a wonderful introduction to this magical and sometimes mysterious place.
Cape Cod Harvest: A Gathering in of Cape Cod Stories
by James Coogan and Jack Sheedy
The third book in the "Cape Cod" series by Jim Coogan and Jack Sheedy (Cape Cod Companion published in 1999 and Cape Cod Voyage published in 2001). This book is has more than eighty stories about America's best loved place Cape Cod. Cape Cod Harvest is a treasure of tales and anecdotes. Many of the stories have not been published before and were culled from musty archives and personal interviews. Covering more than three centuries and extending across a wide range of topics from the Pilgrims to the Camelot years of President John F. Kennedy, this is a book that should delight lovers of the "Narrow Land."
Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism, and Human Health
by William Sargent
Surviving almost unmolested for 300 million years, the horseshoe crab is now the object of an intense legal and ethical struggle involving marine biologists, environmentalists, US government officials, biotechnologists, and international corporations. The source of this friction is the discovery 25 years ago that the blood of these ancient creatures serves as the basis for the most reliable test for the deadly and ubiquitous gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for life-threatening diseases like meningitis, typhoid, E. coli, Legionnaire’s Disease and toxic shock syndrome. Because every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using the horseshoe crab derivative known as Limulus lysate, a multimillion dollar industry has emerged involving the license to “bleed” horseshoe crabs and the rights to their breeding grounds.

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