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Donna Kalez

By Donna Kalez

The milestone of the Dana Point Festival of Whales reaching 50 years is so much more than a new logo or the celebration itself, for me. Having grown up at Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching and retelling my family’s story is a legacy in itself.

It’s often one that I take for granted, but I am reminded that our history here in Dana Point spans the entire 50 years. This once tiny harbor’s past has allowed me to appreciate its future. My father, Don Hansen, started the operation here in Dana Point Harbor in 1971, and what a great time that was! Having known that the public had just started to embrace the Gray Whales and the concept of “whale watching” from his time of operations on the San Clemente Pier, it was from there where the original West Coast Whale Watching was born.

Whale Watching was something he knew was going to be successful in Dana Point, so he thought, why not a Festival of Whales to celebrate? After all, the whales migrate past Dana Point every year much like the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano. The Dana Point Festival of Whales was then established by my father, along with Doris Walker, who was hired to do the Harbor public relations.

It originated as a simple celebration during the peak of the migration, which had a few events on the water, and of course whale watching being the highlight for visitors. People from all around flocked to Dana Point for the annual migration to catch a glimpse of gray whales as they traveled to the bays and lagoons of Baja California, and it became my dad’s hope that people would take the knowledge of witnessing these amazing mammals home with them and tell others. I am so proud to be the chairwoman of the 50th Dana Point Festival of Whales as the tradition moves into the future; even though we are currently living in a global pandemic, the Festival will carry on safely. To my Dad, I say I am so proud of the legacy you have created.

Last year, we were surprised to learn that our Festival of Whales is the longest-running Festival in the World; it has consecutively run for 50 years, corresponding with the process of Dana Point becoming Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World ®.  My Co-Director of the Dana Point Whale Watching Company and owner of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari, Gisele Anderson, uncovered this fact through research that she did, and we were amazed to learn something that we took for granted is actually the longest-running Festival in the World!

I have had the honor of chairing this event for the past 20 years, and I thank all the past chairmen, committee members, and my co-chair for many years, Kim Tilly. I am also reminded during this time of the current executive director, Andrea Swayne, and all past executive directors, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Dana Point, the County of Orange, the Dana Point Harbor Partners and, of course, all the sponsors who have contributed to this event, as well as the event coordinators and all the nonprofits. The list goes on. But most of all, I thank my Dad, Don Hansen who, through it all, supports the journey and mission of the Festival of Whales. Although it has changed over the years, he reminds me that what is most important to him, is that everyone has the knowledge of why we continue the tradition of the Festival of Whales, where it started, and most of all, the love he has for Dana Point! He continues to enjoy seeing the joy of families experiencing the Festival of Whales for the first time or their 50th time!

To my Dad, Don Hansen, I say, “Dad, this Festival is for you!”

Donna Kalez is a managing partner of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. She is also the co-founder of Dana Point Whale Watching Company and chairwoman of the Festival of Whales Foundation.

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