DANA POINT – For the next two weekends it is all about whales.
The Festival of Whales – now in its 46th year – takes places over two weekends and kicks off with a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday .
The festival, expected to draw 100,000 visitors, celebrates the migrating gray whales that use Dana Point’s headland as a navigational landmark on their journey from the Bering Sea feeding grounds in Alaska to the birthing and mating lagoons of Baja, Mexico.
The 5,000-mile migration begins in December and continues through March. During the peak of the season, experts say 40 to 50 whales pass Dana Point each day and are now regular visitors along the Orange County coastline.
A lineup marine biology experts will host lectures on topics related to recent news stories. Eric Austin Yee, biologist and Dana Wharf Whale Watching manager, will discuss unusual sightings in 2016 and this year. This includes discussion on why a 500-pound shark caught on the sand by an angler in Huntington Beach was so close to the beach, as well as the increase in humpback whale sightings. He will also touch on other anomalies such as the rarely-seen Byrde whale, big game fish like bluefin and yellowtail, and red jellyfish blown onto shore by fast currents and high wind.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society, on Sunday will discuss her decades-long gray whale census and behavior project. She will also shed light on why so many killer whales have been around in past months.
On Dec. 1, Schulman-Janiger kicked of her project’s 34th season. After years of teaching students about marine life, Schulman-Janiger realized there were more ways to engage citizen scientists. She thought a project that collects baseline data on types of marine animals seen in a typical year might be useful for scientists and the public.
She decided to work with volunteers. The group – now numbering 100 and ranging from college professors to stay-at-home moms – has been counting whales from the same area for 33 years. The group has spotted 20 other species of cetaceans.
The Festival of Whales Parade: Starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 4
The parade, “Magical Migration,” starts at Selva Road and Pacific Coast Highway and travels south to Golden Lantern. A free shuttle service to and from harbor parking lots to the parade viewing area starts at 9 a.m.
Awards will be given to the Best Display of Parade Theme, Best Musical Unit, Best Youth Group, Best Group Spirit and Best Local Entry.
Rachael Tilly, 18 of Capistrano Beach, is the grand marshal. In December, 2015, Tilly won the Women’s Longboarding Championships and became the sport’s youngest champion. The parade will also feature Alex Van Brasch, of Portland, Ore., who won the 2017 Festival of Whales logo contest beating more than 50 other contestants nationwide. Van Brasch will sign posters in Dana Point Harbor after the parade.
Whale of a Sand Sculpting Contest: 8 a.m.- to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4 at Baby Beach.
The OC Parks-sponsored event is open to all and is family-friendly. Compete to build castles, ocean creatures, pirates, ships and woodies. To enter, call 949-923-2284.
Festival of Whales Street Fair: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 4 at La Plaza Park
There will be more than 70 vendor booths, a pet costume contest, music and food trucks. Raffle prizes include a bike with a pet bike trailer, gift baskets and pet souvenirs. All money raised will support the San Clemente/Dana Point Animal Shelter. Shuttles are available to and from the Dana Point Harbor.
Whales and Tails Wag-a-thon: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 4 at La Plaza Park
The Pet Project Foundation-hosted event includes pet costume contests, vendor booths, food trucks and a pet photo booth. All dogs must be leashed. All proceeds benefit the San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter. The group raises $300,000 annually to support the shelter.
Whale of a Pancake Breakfast: 7 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 5 at Baby Beach Park
The popular event, hosted by the Dana Point Woman’s Club, is back this year after a hiatus.
“Humpback Whales” film screening: 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, March 5 at the Ocean Institute
The film, directed by MacGillivray Freeman of Laguna Beach, and narrated by actor Ewan McGregor, takes an up-close look at the world of humpback whales. There will be a question and answer session after the film. General admission, pre-purchase for ages 2 and up, $10, or $15 at the door (unless sold out). Register online: www.ocean-institute.org /event/film-screening -humpback-whales.
Kids Fun Faire: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 11-12
The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce will host a fun zone for kids and families on the second weekend of the Festival in the East Marina Parking Lot adjacent to the walkway between Dana Wharf and Harpoon Henry’s on Golden Lantern. The event is new this year and includes dozens of games for everyone. It’s free to enter, but ticket purchases are required for most activities
The Cardboard Classic Dinghy Dash: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 11 at Baby Beach
First held last year, the event includes a cardboard boat building contest and race, vendor booths and barbecue. Dinghy Dash Teams will work through the morning designing and building their crafts from corrugated cardboard and duct tape and then compete in races in the afternoon. Construction materials for the race are supplied. Races are done in age categories, including a person and dog entry.
Classic Cars on display: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 4-5, March 11-12
The official Southern California Chapter of the National Woodie Club will set up cars along the harbor walkway. Club members will talk about the role the woody has played through automotive history and surf culture.
Pacific Coast Corvettes will display cars at Island Way and Dana Point Harbor Drive.
Lectures on marine mammals: 10 to 11 a.m. March 4-5, March 11-12, Harpoon Henry’s in Dana Point Harbor
Marine biologists and guests will present recent findings on local whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. Sponsored by Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching. Lectures are $5 each. and include a continental breakfast.
Saturday: Eric Austin Yee, biologist and Dana Wharf Whale Watching manager will discuss unusual sightings seen in 2016.
Sunday: Alisa Schulman-Janiger of from the California Killer Whale Project and the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society will talk about her decades-running gray whale census project and about recent killer whale sightings.
March 11: Lei Lani Stelle, a professor of biology at the University of Redlands, will talk about blue whales. Her research focuses on the human impacts on marine mammals off Southern California.
March 12: Kirsten Donald, director of education at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Donald will talk about sea lions and seals.
Whale Watch tours: Tours will depart after each marine mammal lecture
If you want to get up close and personal with the whales you’ve learned about during the lectures, you can head out with Dana Wharf staff on their catamaran and experience the thrill of seeing a whale firsthand. Trips and lectures are $55 or $35 for seniors. This includes a continental breakfast.
Dolphin Safari Whale Watching: Tours run every two hours starting at 7:30 a.m., March 4-5 and March 11-12
Join Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari for a chance to view gray whales, fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales and more, plus five different species of wild dolphins, including mega-pods that can number in the thousands.
Capt. Dave Anderson is a marine naturalist, conservationist, photographer, award-winning filmmaker and author. Information: 949-488-2828 or dolphinsafari.com.
A Tribute to Lily: 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., March 11, OC Sailing and Event Center, 34451 Ensenada Pl.
Anderson will do a tribute to Lily, a gray whale trapped in gill nets that was disentangled by Anderson and team members, making national headlines.
Grand Finale Concert: Noon to 5 p.m., March 12, Baby Beach
Three bands will play from a floating stage. Visitors can enjoy the concert from the sand, grass, on stand-up paddle boards or boats.
The Dave Sliver Band will play rock originals from noon- 1 p.m. The Tricia Freeman Band takes the stage from 1:30 to 3 p.m. to play rock music. The festival closes out with Hollywood U2, a U2 tribute band from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
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