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Featured Image: Dana Hills High senior Jack Martin zeroes in on a whale spotted portside during the school’s whale watching excursion on Thursday morning, Jan. 20. Photo: C. Jayden Smith

By C. Jayden Smith

On Thursday morning, Jan. 20, the latest group of Dana Hills High art students boarded the Dana Pride and set sail from Dana Point Harbor, hoping to see some whales and gather inspiration.

The students, from art classes such as photography and drawing and painting, took the first major step before submitting their individual works for the upcoming Dana Hills High School Young Artists Show and Sale that the Festival of Whales will host this March.

Natalie Hribar-Kelly, digital photography teacher and chair for the Visual and Performing Arts Department, has been part of the annual event and field trip for more than 10 years, but she said this year’s activity has stood out from the rest.

In previous years, she enjoyed seeing the students get outside, as well as the Dana Point community including them in the festival tradition.

“This year, I think it’s different because the kids have been so stressed-out over the last couple of years,” she said. “We’ve had such weird instruction with mask-wearing, online learning, and hyper-learning last year that I think it’s just exciting to have some normalcy.”

The tour provides a new experience for a majority of the teens who had never been on a boat, nor seen a whale. 

Throughout her years leading students through the art show process, Kelly said that watching the students get excited and letting their guard down is always satisfying, particularly on field trips that allow them to be creative away from the school campus.

“I like that component to it, where it’s like, ‘Hey, you have an hour and a half to two hours to take pictures, and you’ve got a really fantastic subject to take pictures of, so do it,’ ” she said. “I think they get better (with) the cameras, because they have this time to ask me questions.”

Mattea Chung, a senior in Kelly’s photography class, enjoyed being on the Dana Pride and the opportunity to take photos from numerous locations on the ship. 

“I was excited for it, because I was like, ‘Ooh, there might be whales out,’ ” Chung said of learning about the tour. “I wasn’t sure, though, because I knew the water would be calm. But (the trip) inspired me, because it’s a fun experience, so I can expand my knowledge of photography and the ocean.”

She was able to use her photo-taking strengths to her advantage, as she described being more comfortable focusing on one subject at a time.

Another student who was using all areas of the boat to try to photograph the sea life was Jake Bachrach, a freshman who was well-adjusted to being on the water.

Due to the long periods between when the whales would breach, he, like other students, found the task of capturing the whales to be difficult.

“Maybe I could get the prize that the teacher was promising to give us (for) whoever got the best picture,” Bachrach said of his goal to take lots of photos of the whales. “It would be a good accomplishment.” 

Donna Kalez, chief operating officer of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching, which donates the annual boat trip to the school, said it’s always important to hold the tour and kick off the festival proceedings. 

“It’s just something we’ve always done, to take them out to get them excited about the Festival of Whales and try to get the community ready,” Kalez said. 

The hope is that all the students were inspired in some way by the tour, as they officially begin their preparations for the show.

The Art Show and Sale is scheduled for March 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Harbor Walkway. Visit for more information.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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