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Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times

Dana Point is officially the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas, as established by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), the world’s largest marine conservation partnership,

The WCA is an organization that promotes safe and sustainable whale watching. A Whale Heritage Site is defined by the WCA as “an outstanding location where cetaceans (whales, dolphins, or porpoises) are embraced through the cultural, economic, social, and political lives of associated communities, and where people and cetaceans coexist in an authentic and respectful way.”

Donna Kalez and Gisele Anderson, co-directors of the Dana Point Whale Watching Company, began the application process early in 2020 after successfully trademarking Dana Point as the Dolphin & Whale Capital of the World in 2019.  Kalez is the general manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching, and Anderson operates Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari with husband Dave Anderson.

Donna Kalez and Gisele Anderson, co-directors of the Dana Point Whale Watching Company, applied for Dana Point to be designated a Whale Heritage Site in early 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Donna Kalez

“To have Dana Point recognized as a Whale Heritage Site is a dream and has been a goal of mine for some time,” Kalez said. “Dana Point has historically been an incredible destination to watch and learn about whales and dolphins, and now we are happy to share this with the world.”

Kalez says the criteria for acceptance are incredibly challenging, focusing on protection, sustainability, education, research, public access and awareness, as well as requiring a community effort that furthers the purpose of a Whale Heritage Site.

“Being the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas is an amazing accomplishment and serves to further recognize Dana Point and the whales and dolphins that live and visit here the recognition they deserve, as well send a message to the world that Dana Point is also a place that protects and responsibly watches cetaceans,” Anderson said.

Both Kalez and Anderson credit the Dana Point Harbor Partners (DPHP), the harbor’s management company tasked with revitalization, for supporting their efforts to secure Dana Point as a Whale Heritage Site.

“We are ecstatic that Dana Point has been named the Americas’ only Whale Heritage Site,” said Bryon Ward, Partner of DPHP, and President of Burnham-Ward Properties. “Marine education and specifically whale & dolphin watching is a key pillar of the Harbor’s history and future. This exciting recognition is a testament to our highly experienced whale watching operators.”

In 2020, Dana Point was one of eight candidate destinations from around the world. The World Cetacean Alliance states that each site is unique, providing and contributing in different ways to the criteria for becoming certified. Kalez says that Whale Heritage Sites give tourists a transparent and easy way to select responsible whale and dolphin watching destinations, encouraging them to experience these incredible animals in their natural habitat, in an authentic and respectful way.

“To celebrate the abundance and diversity of these magnificent creatures in our local waters, we are currently consulting with marine biologists and artists to create educational exhibits and whale-related public art installations within the Harbor,” Ward said. “As we further revitalize the Harbor in the coming years, we will instill the importance of education, conservation, and viewing whales in their natural habitat.”

Elizabeth Cuevas is the Whale Heritage Sites Manager at World Cetacean Alliance. She says the Whale Heritage Site designation is the first step forward in responsible tourism.

“This site is of global significance as a place that has developed responsible whale and dolphin watching practices, while encouraging local people and visiting tourists to celebrate the importance of whales and marine conservation,” Cuevas aid. “The Dana Point community has set a gold standard that other whale watching sites can learn from.”

To learn more about the Whale Heritage Sites, go to whaleheritagesites.org/sites or worldcetaceanalliance.org.

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