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By Breeana Greenberg

Hundreds gathered in Dana Point this past weekend for the 51st annual Festival of Whales, which offered numerous activities and events including the Magical Migration Parade, all celebrating the yearly migration of gray whales.

Festival-goers on Saturday, March 5, lined the sidewalk along Island Way as marching bands, classic cars, military units, floats and giant balloons paraded by. As this year’s Grand Marshal, Jean Pierre “The Fly” Van Swae led the procession in the Dana Point Harbor.

The opening day of the festival was a particularly blustery one, as those holding the ropes to the giant whale, turtle, and shark balloons fought the wind to keep the balloons close to the ground. 

Throughout the weekend, festival-goers embarked on special whale watching excursions, competed in cardboard boat and dinghy races, browsed works from local artists, rocked out to live music and participated in educational tours and lectures.

The weekend’s events kicked off just before sunset Friday, March 4, when members of the indigenous Acjachemen Nation and the Dana Point Surf Club gathered at the beach behind the Ocean Institute to bless the gray whales making their migration past Dana Point.

With winds picking up, prompting a high surf advisory, seven members of the Surf Club braved the waves for a special paddle out during the Welcoming of the Whales ceremony.

Following the ceremony, Donna Kalez of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching and Gisele Anderson of Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari announced efforts to keep whales safe and waterways clean.

In 2020, the duo announced that the World Cetacean Alliance had named Dana Point a Whale Heritage Site. Dana Point is the first, and currently only, city in North America to be certified as a Whale Heritage Site.

To maintain the designation, the Dana Point Whale Watching Corporation has developed initiatives to maintain waterways and educate boaters on keeping whales safe.

“A Whale Heritage Site is an outstanding location where cetaceans, whales, dolphins and porpoises are embraced through the cultural, economic, social and political life of associated communities, and where people and cetaceans coexist in authentic and respectful ways,” Kalez said.

Dana Point Whale Watching developed the Be Whale Safe Campaign to teach boaters to be safe around whales. Dana Wharf and Captain Dave’s are both participating in research as well.

The company has also adopted a strip of highway along Interstate 5. There will be six signs placed along highway exists letting drivers know that Dana Point is the Whale Watching Capital of the World, the cost of which pays for trash to be picked up along the highway.

The company has also led an effort to report and recover balloons out at sea. More than 1,500 balloons were retrieved over the last year because of this effort, according to Kalez.

Cetacean Expert Dr. Ari Friedlaender was also on hand after Friday evening’s ceremony to give a lecture on whales and their impact on their environment.

Photos: Breeana Greenberg and Alan Gibby

During the festival, Dana Point Whale Watching offered cardboard water boxes to reduce plastic waste from water bottles.

Just before the parade on Saturday morning, competitors in the Carboard Classic and Dinghy Dash gathered at Baby Beach bright and early to build their makeshift boats.

Performance Paddling won the business barge division with iHeartYoga placing in second and Ocean Academy USA placing third. The Women’s Sailing Association OC won Judge’s Choice and the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association won People’s Choice.

Over at the Dana Point Harbor parking lot, visitors could walk around the Whales, Tails and Ales Street Fair, which featured local artisans and dog-friendly vendors, as well as a dog costume contest, craft beer and inflatable play structures.

There, Dana Hills High art students showcased their works, including pottery, photography, drawings and paintings.

The Clam Chowder Cook-Off was also held, with Coastal Kitchen taking home the People’s Choice award, while The Point Restaurant & Bar earned the Mayor’s Choice. Wind & Sea Restaurant won the prize for Best Booth Decorations.  

Festivities continued Sunday, March 6, when families had the chance to dig for treasure and raise money for various children’s charities during the Diamond Dig at Baby Beach.

In the afternoon, Drea Sheva, Neon Nation and Who’s Zeppelin performed classic ’80s music while raising money for the Dana Hills High school swim program. The bands rocked out atop a floating stage, on the water at Baby Beach.

Nearby, barbecue was served, and a Spirit Garden for those 21 and older raised money for the Marine Corps League South Coast Detachment.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at

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