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Thank You Don Hansen for the Festival of Whales!


The Festival of Whales is celebrating 50 Years, THANK YOU Don Hansen!

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, 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. That was how the Dana Point Festival of Whales was established by my father along with Doris Walker who was hired to do the Harbor Public Relations. When it started it was very small as the Festival was all about the Gray Whales and the brand new harbor in Dana Point.

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 and the draw 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. People have said that it was my fathers love of the Gray Whale that put Dana Point on the map. 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.

I love to hear stories of the beginning years of the festival, as told to me by my Dad, Brothers and various Captains as well as stories from early days shared by Doris Walker who after doing PR in the harbor, became the Dana Point Historian. She has been my go to person for everything Dana Point. I do remember the Festival as a child, but it’s hard to imagine at the time that I would go on to continue in helping with this annual tradition.

Last year, we were surprised to learn that our Festival of Whales is the longest running Festival in the World; it has consecutively ran for 50 years, corresponding with the process to become the Dana Point Whale and Dolphin 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 she found, and we were amazed to learn something that we took for granted is actually the longest running Festival in the World! The Festival historically has changed over the years; it started as a 5 day celebration starting in March, then transformed to become a 9 day celebration in February and then morphed to three weekends. Thank goodness it eventually settled into what we have been honoring for the past two decades, which now Dana Point Festival of Whales occurs on the first two weekends in March. This year will be an exception due the fact we were supposed to be slated for construction causing the Festival to be one weekend only, that along with COVID 19, we are just grateful to be able to have this event during this time. I have had the honor of  chairing this event for the past 20 years and I think 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 non profits 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 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 sayDad this Festival is for you!

Donna Kalez