By Lillian Boyd

Aura Gonzales has always lived near the ocean, growing up to admire how it impacts our daily lives and how our daily lives impact the ocean.

“I want to be a marine biologist,” Gonzales said. “Being so close to the water has given me a unique appreciation for the ocean.”

Gonzales, a senior, is a student in Randy Hudson’s marine ecology class at Dana Hills High School. She’s already applied to several colleges noted for their marine biology programs. Experiences such as going out at sea on the Dana Pride only affirm her belief she is on the right path.

Each year, students from DHHS fine arts classes set sail out of the Dana Point Harbor. The goal is for the students to channel their experience out on the water into their creative projects, which will be displayed and sold during the annual Festival of Whales celebration. Dana Wharf Whale Watching donates a whale watching trip each year to take a group of art and science students from Dana Hills on the trip.

“We just taught about marine mammals, so this trip has been perfect timing,” Hudson said. “We talked about plankton, whales and all mammals in between.”

This year, students from both Dana Hills High School and San Juan Hills High School were given the opportunity to go whale watching through Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. Photos: Lillian Boyd

During the field trip, the students were able to see a gray whale breach several times. Each time the gray whale was sighted, the captain repositioned the Dana Pride to safely follow the whale. Students had their smart phones and DSLR cameras at the ready, aiming to capture the breach.

“It’s so important that young kids get a chance to see these kinds of creatures out in the wild,” Hudson said. “Now that we’ve had a chance to see whales breaching, the students have that experience, that connection, and they can relate on a more personable level when we go back to the classroom. Whales are directly impacted by human activity, so it is crucial that this next generation is educated and develops an appreciation for these great species.”

Students taking classes in multimedia design, ceramics, drawing and painting, marine ecology, as well as digital photography, got to partake in an annual field trip to seek creative inspiration through whale watching.

This year, for the first time ever, students from San Juan Hills High School also were able to enjoy the whale watching experience.

One retired teacher was also able to board the trip as a naturalist for Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. Nana Reiner taught at John Malcom Middle School in Laguna Niguel. Several of her former middle school students were also on the trip, now as high school students.

Nana Reiner, a retired teacher, was reunited with several of her former students form John Malcolm Elementary School. Photo: Lillian Boyd

“I taught for 31 years with Capistrano Unified School District,” Reiner said. “I started being a naturalist for Dana Wharf in 2018 after I retired from teaching. Now I run into students and families all the time who come out whale watching. It’s wonderful to see the community come together to appreciate these mind-blowing whales migrating along our coastline.”

This year the students have the opportunity to enter a Dana Point Arts and Culture Commission juried contest to compete for a chance to have their work chosen to be on display at the Dana Point Community Center in April and May. The work will be for show and sale on March 15 at the DHHS/SJHHS Young Artists’ Show and Sale at the Festival of Whales. Dana Point City Council will recognize the winners at a council meeting.

Students enrolled in digital photography had the opportunity to put their skills to the test on a whale watching excursion aboard Dana Pride. Photo: Lillian Boyd

“The annual inspiration field trip fulfills an important part of the Dana Point Festival of Whales Foundation’s mission to share an appreciation for the beauty and majesty of the ocean environment and its inhabitants,” said Andrea Swayne, festival coordinator. “We hope something as awe-inspiring as the sight of a breaching whale can plant a seed that will grow into a lifetime of environmentalism.”

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