Gray whale migration is the centerpiece of the 48th annual Dana Point Whale Festival – Orange County Register

  • Gray whales migrating past Newport Beach approached charter boats, exciting passengers and showing behavior more typical of what they do in Baja. Whales are seen next to the Newport Coastal Adventure. (Photo courtesy of Kristin Campbell)

  • Mom and baby gray whales swim past Salt Creek Beach north toward Alaska’s Bering Sea. (Photo courtesy of

  • A gray whale recently erupted off the coast of Orange County. The whales mostly head north towards Alaska. Photo: Carla Mitroff/Dana Wharf Whale Watching

  • Visitors Clara Beal, right, and Barbara Johnson join Denise Donegan, left, ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project volunteer as they scan the ocean for gray whales at Rancho Palos Verdes on Thursday, December 01 2016. Annually ACS/LA Gray Whale Survey and Behavior Project volunteers congregate to search for gray whales on their migration from Alaska to Baja and back. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mike Bursk, marine biologist at the Ocean Institute, and captain of the R/V Sea Explorer, stands on the bow of the boat in Dana Point Harbor Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Bursk will be giving a lecture on whales during a next Meeting of the American Cetacean Society. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, collaborating photographer)

DANA POINT — Marine biologist Mike Bursk spent 111 straight days on the shores of San Ignacio lagoons in western Baja, Mexico, as a young researcher learning about gray whales.

Now as captain of the R/V Sea Explorer at the Ocean Institute, he is happy to share his knowledge.

He and others at Dana Point prepare to celebrate the majestic creatures that pass along the headlands of Dana Point as guests of honor at the annual Whale Festival, a two-weekend celebration recognizing the behemoths during of their annual migration. Dana Point hosts the world’s first and oldest annual whale festival. The festival is the city’s flagship event.

The journey – 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea feeding ground to the warm Baja lagoons where many calves are born – is why hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians come to Dana Point early March. The migration begins in December and continues until March. At the height of the season, according to experts, 40 to 50 whales pass through Dana Point daily.

“At the Ocean Institute, here is our advice if you decide to have a whale experience from Dana Point: become the whale. See what it sees, hear what it hears,” he said. said “For two hours, experience life inside the whale.”

The 48th Annual Whale Festival – scheduled for March 2, 3 and 9, 10 – includes plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in gray whales.

Dana Wharf Whale Watching, Dana Point Harbor’s oldest business, offers whale-watching opportunities each day of the four-day festival, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Captain Dave’s Dolphin Safari and Whale Watching also offers the same opportunity. The Ocean Institute and Bursk offer whale watching tours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is also a whale watching tour offered on the cliffs of the Headlands by naturalists from the Headlands Nature Center from 8 am to 4 pm each day of the festival. .

The annual Whale Festival parade begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday March 2, starting on the Pacific Coast Highway at Selva Road and heading south toward the Lantern District. There will also be a sand sculpting contest at Baby Beach from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a street fair at La Plaza Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sunday, March 4, there will be a whale walk at Doheny State Beach. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Activities on March 9 and 10 include a Cardboard Canoe Race at Baby Beach from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Captain Dave’s Underwater Carnival. The festival will celebrate whales and the environment with a whale clean-up of a beach – Festival of Whales toasting the coast. It starts at 9 a.m. on March 10. Bring your work gloves and a recyclable bag or bucket and help clean up Doheny State Beach. Meet Park Naturalist Vicki at Lifeguard Headquarters and learn more about how you can help preserve valuable coastal resources.

Wyland’s Clean Water Mobile Learning Center will make its festival debut this year. The state-of-the-art 1,000 square foot Biodiesel Learning Wheels Exhibit features a 40-person multi-sensory theater and six interactive stations. This exhibit provides a museum-quality science experience for people to explore how water quality and availability affects quality of life.

Conferences on marine mammals

The migration of gray whales, efforts to save starving sea lions and threats of entanglement by fishing gear are the topics of a series of lectures planned for the two-weekend festival. All one-hour lectures will be held at Harpoon Henry and begin at 10:00 a.m.

On Saturday March 2, Lei Lani Stelle, professor of biology at the University of Redlands, will focus on blue whales. Stelle and her team study human impacts on marine mammals.

On Sunday, March 3, Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project and the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society will speak about her Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project. As part of the project, Schulman-Janiger and volunteers count gray whales as they pass Point Vicente. The count begins on December 1 and continues until the end of May. As of February 18, the pod had 509 south-traveling gray whales and calves and 72 north-traveling gray whales. Schulman-Janiger will also discuss killer whales.

On Saturday, March 9, Todd Mansur of Laguna Beach will also discuss gray whales. Mansur, a Gray Whale Foundation naturalist and boat captain for Dana Wharf, has spent more than 30 years on the ocean.

On Sunday, March 10, Kirsten Donald, director of education at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, will discuss findings from the marine mammal center; including recent research, population management and conservation efforts. She will also discuss rescue and rehabilitation efforts related to whales, manatees, seals and sea lions.

“Come and share them now; too soon, they’ll be flukes on the horizon, heading north,” Bursk said.

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