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Boat Captains

Meet Our Boat Captains!

They are the best in the business! All Dana Wharf Captains are Certified Marine Naturalists by the American Cetacean Society.

Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching is dedicated to helping locals and visitors alike enjoy the unique wonders of Dana Point Harbor and the Orange County coastline. The warm waters right out of Dana Point Harbor are flourishing with sea life. Whether you’re looking for boat rentals in Dana Point to enjoy a private boat charter, sailboat, or catamaran, coming for an awe-inspiring whale watching cruise, or wanting to create memories onboard our sportfishing charters, one thing is for certain: Your trip through the beautiful and scenic Orange County coast will be unforgettable.

The Story of Dana Wharf (cont.):

Some years later, Hansen moved the operation to Dana Point Harbor when it opened in 1971. This was where the West Coast Whale Watching industry originated – not only for school field trips, but the public Whale Watching excursion was born in Dana Point. Don’s love for the Gray Whale inspired people from all around the world to come and see for themselves the friendly Gray Whales as they migrate past Dana Point.

Dana Wharf Whale Watching, the first whale watching company in Orange County, is a year-round whale watching facility in Southern California. Interacting with thousands of whales during the Gray Whale migration in the winter and Blue whales in the summer plus year round whales such as Fin , Orca, Minke and Humpback . In addition to whales, thousands of dolphins, sea lions, sea faring birds and even sharks are found in the beautiful waters right off Dana Wharf. There is always plenty of wildlife to experience, as you will see in this video. Today Dana Wharf sits in the heart of a busy, flourishing harbor and continues to be owned and operated by the Hansen family.

Captain Don Hansen

Founder of Dana Wharf

Don Hansen’s love for the Gray Whale inspired thousands of people to come to Dana Point each year for the annual migration, the longest migration of any living mammal on earth! Today his children continue the tradition of offering Whale Watching from our large comfortable boats.

Captain Mike Hansen


Born and raised in San Clemente, California, Michael is a life-long surfer, a certified PADI diver, holds a USCG 100-ton masters license and spends almost every day either in the water or on the water. Many would say he is the quintessential waterman.However, this waterman desired more from his daily experience with Mother Ocean. As Dana Wharf’s CEO he has kept busy over the years building boats and managing the coast guard inspections as well as being very involved with the Sportfishing Association of California.

In 2009 he founded the Gray Whale Foundation  As he witnessed the decrease in coastal navigating Gray Whales each year and the increasing inability of schools to offer on-the-water educational opportunities for their students, Michael knew he had to step up and form an organization that could address both of these concerning issues.Michael is a graduate of San Diego State University and the son of Don Hansen, founder and original operator of Dana Wharf Sport-fishing and Whale Watching in Dana Point, CA. This incredible father/son team have served on numerous boards and commissions over the past 30 years. This ongoing service to the community and multiple regulatory agencies provides Michael with a well-rounded knowledge and platform for administering the Gray Whale Foundation’s mission and purpose.

Captain Todd Mansur

Director of Marine Mammal Education Programs
Board of Directors, Gray Whale Foundation
Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Todd was born in Laguna Beach and for the past 32 years has had a career on the ocean. Through a variety of experiences he has had the opportunity to observe hundreds of different marine species, both fish and mammals.

At the impressionable age of 13 he was the only crew member for a 20 passenger operation that fished during the spring, summer, and fall. During the winter he crewed for a whale watching operation. This early exposure to Mother Ocean had a huge impact on Todd.

In 1992 Captain Todd became Dana Wharf Whale Watching’s lead naturalist and conducts all of the pre-excursion in-classroom education for Orange County’s schools. This is also a major role for Todd as a Board Member of the Gray Whale Foundation.

Todd does pubic speaking engagements on the topic upon request. Todd worked as a writer, editor and photographer for the film “Sharing the Shores off Dana Point: A Whale and Dolphin Exploration.”

Captain Brian Woolley

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Feature Writer For Various Publications

Captain Brian is a native ofSan Clemente and still lives in the beautiful city with his wife and 3 children. He joined Dana Wharf in 1997 as Captain of the Sum Fun and continues to captain that vessel today. The Dana Wharf family shares his sense of community pride. He volunteers in the community independently and as part of the Dana Wharf family. Captain Brian, loves getting kids off the video games and out on the water reminding them of the wonders of the ocean that is our backyard.

Captain Brian loves catching Rock Fish, Yellowtail and Dorado the best, though he admits anything that’s biting is fun to catch! One of his favorite things about being a boat captain is watching a new angler catch their first fish. “It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, seeing the excitement on their faces when they reel in their first catch is thrilling for me.”

Catch and Release is one of Dana Wharf’s core corporate responsibilities. If anglers do not intend on consuming the fish they catch, Dana Wharf Captains encourage them to release the fish back into the ocean. This gives the anglers a sense of pride and is good for the environment and fishing industry.

Captain Corey a man looking at the cameraLieser

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society



In loving memory of Captain Corey,   a resident of San Juan Capistrano,  he has been a part of the Dana Wharf family since 1998. Born in Ohio, this Captain of the Clemente has taken out thousands of anglers over his 24 years with the landing. Although there’s no special trick to finding fish, Corey has said he watches the conditions, water clarity, wind and weather and uses his gut to find the right spot. “When the fish are biting and everyone’s happy, I’m happy.”

This Captain is usually busy navigating the boat and doesn’t have much time to actually fish, but when he does and he hooks up, he hands over the rod to a young angler or someone who hasn’t been having much luck and lets them reel it in. He recalls an elderly gentleman who caught a nice Tuna. “He shook my hand and said thanks – that’s probably the last fish I’ll ever catch.”

Dana Wharf Sportfishing  is saddened to share the passing of long time Clemente Captain Corey Lieser on 4/9/22.  We know many of our passengers loved fishing with Corey and we have so many charter groups like the Dana Wharf Lady Anglers that booked year after year to fish with him.  We send our deepest condolences to his family and many friends.  Next time you’re fishing on the Clemente take a minute to remember a time Corey helped put a smile on your face.

Captain Chad Steffen

Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Chad was born in San Clemente . After getting his captain’s license in 2005, he became a certified ACS naturalist and loves exploring and sharing the many wonders of the Pacific Ocean.

Captain Chad is passionate about fishing, especially aboard the Clemente. The Clemente is a perfect fishing vessel, nimble, fully equipped and the perfect size. Dorado is his favorite fish to catch because they put up a good fight making them really fun to catch. The Dorado jump and put on a great show, their vibrant colors sparkle in the sun and they are a great tasting fish.

The best part of working on the ocean is that it is ever-changing; no two days are the same – ever! The weather is up and down; fish bite feverishly then they just quit; whales and dolphin are everywhere, then the ocean can become as quiet as a desert. We run such a variety of trips and service locals and tourists with the goal of each trip providing an experience of a lifetime.

Steffen is credited with finding the wreck of the A.C.E., a 58-foot drum seiner, en route to the Dana Point Harbor after a night of bait fishing.

Captain Corey Hall

Operations Manager
Board of Directors, Gray Whale Foundation
Certified Marine Naturalist, American Cetacean Society

Captain Corey has loved the ocean since he can remember. He was born in Laguna Beach and got his Captain’s License when he was a young man of 19. He’s been on the water ever since, sharing and educating locals and visitors on the marine life here in Dana Point.

He loves both whale watching and fishing equally, especially when there are first-timers or kids on board. Captain Corey enjoys catching Calico Bass because it takes skill and finesse. There are several ways to fish Calico Bass and they can be caught year round here in Dana Point.

Since being a member of the Dana Wharf team of Captains, Captain Corey has a lot of good memories, but perhaps the most memorable was hosting the world’s tallest man on a whale watching trip. “His shoes were as big as many of the fish we catch,” explained the Captain.

Captain Steve Burkhalter

Captain Steve was born in Cedar Rapids Iowa. He grew up fishing and spending as much time on the water as possible. He moved to Southern California at the age of 11, and immediately fell in love with the ocean. He was a Newport Beach lifeguard and played water polo at UC San Diego, where he graduated with a degree in Biochemistry. Working on the water was way more appealing than working in a lab… so he decided to leave a Ph.D. program and move to Hawaii, to begin his professional career on the water. In 2007, he got his captain’s license and he absolutely loves operating a boat for a living.

He spent over six years on Maui working on whale watching, snorkeling, and sailing boats. After moving back to the mainland to start a family, he ended up back in Orange County where we has been working out of Dana Point since 2011. He started working at Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Sept 2016, and he loves the professionalism and history of the Wharf. The myriad of different reactions of his passengers to all the wonders of the pacific ocean, is what keeps him passionate about his job. He looks forward to getting out on the water each and every day for both work and play!

Captain Chris Pica

Chris grew up in San Clemente Surfing and Fishing. Back in 1989 after graduating from college and landing a job as Vice President of production at Glass Tech Industries, Chris decided to give it up and work out on the boats at Dana Wharf Sport Fishing and Whale Watching to pursue his passion and purpose out on the Ocean. In the last 28 years as a licensed USCG Captain Chris has had the privilege of working on every boat in the fleet Experiencing the best and worst of the local Sport fishing industry, his favorite fishing in the summer is the local offshore Tuna, you never know when you will get HOOKED UP.

Chris also has had the opportunity to help set the bar in today’s modern Whale Watching, Gray Whale is his favorite Whale to watch and teach the public about. In the past 5 years Chris has had the privilege of working with NOAA’s Orange County Entanglement Response Team and have helped with several disentanglement responses.

Captain Tom White

Captain Tom White is a native of San Clemente. He began his Dana Wharf career as a fishing deckhand in 1977. He became a captain in 1981. White comments, “Obviously, I love the ocean! From fishing to whale watching and surfing. I know for sure if it wasn’t for the Hansen Family making Dana Wharf such a great place to work, I would not have received the experience of what this ocean has to offer.” Over the decades, he is witness to the ocean constantly changing.

Tommy is currently the primary operator of our flagship, the 95’ Dana Pride. This vessel runs our whale & dolphin watching adventures in the winter and spring and fishing in the summer and fall. As the captain, he strives to make sure every one of his passengers has a chance at a great experience on the water, just like he has been given. Whether it be catching their first fish, trying to cast a bait, seeing a whale or just sitting down relaxing and enjoying the ocean. “Nothing is better than watching customers have fun and leave with a smile.”

captain chase mooreCaptain Chase Moore

I was born in 1995 and grew up surfing in san clemente. I got absolutely hooked on fishing when my unclesnuck me out of school to fish a half priced tuesday on the Dana Pride when I was in 8th grade.

After graduating high school, I worked on and off of commercial and sport boats in Kona Hawaii under my biggest mentor, my uncle Cpt. Guy Terwilliger. After teaching preschool and afterschool sports for the city of San Clemente for a couple years, I became a fulltime deckhand on the Clemente. I then captained a four pack boat for a fishing lodge in southeast Alaska. I now captain the reel fun, and San Mateo, and the Whale Watching catamaran the Ocean Adventure catamaran.

I am an avid spearfisherman/freediver and I specialize at night diving. My favorite local fishing is yellowtail yoyo fishing. There is no indications when you are gonna get bit, it’s the 0 to 100 in 1 second action that excites me. My favorite part about running boats is the freedom of no roads and unlimited options to make your own path, to explore and fish new spots in different ways. I also love the chance to get people stoked on fishing and to teach them about wildlife. The excitement I see on people’s faces when they catch a fish for the first time or see a blue whales tail lift out of the water helps me relive the excitement I felt when I first experienced those things.

Captain Kenneth Smith

Captain Brandon Erdo