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DANA POINT, CA — Two Dana Point whale watching businesses, working in concert together like a pod of whales, has pulled off the impossible. After months of work, Dana Point is now the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas, as established by the World Cetacean Alliance—the world's largest marine conservation partnership, dedicated to promoting safe and sustainable whale watching.
Donna Kalez and Gisele Anderson, Co-Directors of the Dana Point Whale Watching Company, began the application process early in 2020 after successfully trademarking Dana Point as the Dolphin & Whale Capital of the World® in 2019. Becoming a Whale Heritage Site was pivotal in their opinion, as each strives to run a whale-watching business where people and cetaceans coexist authentically and respectfully.
Now, those efforts are receiving the highest accolades in the world.
Kalez discussed what it means to have Dana Point recognized as a Whale Heritage Site.
"It is a dream and has been a goal of mine for some time," Kalez tells Patch. "Dana Point has historically been an incredible destination to watch and learn about whales and dolphins, and now we are happy to share this with the world.”
Her partner, Anderson, agrees.
“Being the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas is an amazing accomplishment and serves to recognize further Dana Point and the whales and dolphins that live and visit here the recognition they deserve, as well send a message to the world that Dana Point is also a place that protects and responsibly watches cetaceans," Anderson said.
The criteria for acceptance are incredibly challenging, focusing on protection, sustainability, education, research, public access, and awareness and requiring a community effort that furthers the purpose of a Whale Heritage Site.
With the world slowed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was the perfect opportunity to get this done.
Kalez and Anderson have received tremendous support from the community in this effort.
According to Kalez, many in the community who supported their trademarking efforts joined the Whale Heritage application's steering committee. Community leaders, academia, government representatives, and local non-profits all played a role.
Byron Ward of Dana Point Harbor Partners, those who manage and will revitalize the Harbor that Dana Point Whale Watching operates from, played a primary role.
"We are ecstatic that Dana Point has been named the Americas’ only Whale Heritage site," Ward says. "Marine education and specifically whale and dolphin watching is a key pillar of the Harbor's history and future. This exciting recognition is a testament to our highly experienced whale watching operators."
In 2020, Dana Point was one of eight candidate destinations from around the world, according to the World Cetacean Alliance.
“Each site is unique, providing and contributing in different ways to the criteria for becoming certified," a spokesperson for the Alliance says. "During the award process, the sites have been receiving a wealth of tailored support from the WCA to aid them in achieving their goal of certification as a world-class whale or dolphin watching destination!”
Why become a Whale Heritage Site?
Now that Dana Point has achieved this honor, tourists can feel comfortable that they are whale and dolphin watching transparent and easy way to select responsible whale and dolphin watching destinations, encouraging them to experience these incredible animals in their natural habitat authentically and respectfully.
A partner of this effort is the World Animal Protection organization, which acts as a support to the World Cetacean Alliance in establishing Whale Heritage Sites.
Ben Williamson, Programs Director, said:
“Dana Point’s recognition as a Whale Heritage Site gives visitors to California a sustainable alternative to the captive dolphin displays of marine parks. It demonstrates that animal lovers can still have that once-in-a-lifetime experience by seeing these majestic animals safely and respectfully, in the wild, where they belong.”
Elizabeth Cuevas, Whale Heritage Sites Manager at World Cetacean Alliance, said, "The designation of the first Whale Heritage site in the US is a wonderful step forward for responsible tourism. This site is of global significance. It has developed responsible whale and dolphin watching practices while encouraging local people and visiting tourists to celebrate the importance of whales and marine conservation. The Dana Point community has set a gold standard that other whale watching sites can learn from.”
Visit Dana Point Chairman Jim Samuels weighed in on the new tourism draw.
“Visit Dana Point could not be more excited about the destination’s receipt of the Whale Heritage Site designation, which is all thanks to the incredible passion from our city’s Donna Kalez and Gisele Anderson,” Samuels says. “These two women and their own whale watching outfitters – Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching and Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari – are integral to our destination and the locals' and visitors' experience. I have been lucky to work with both of them for over a decade. At Visit Dana Point, much of our tourism-related efforts focus on the unique activities to be enjoyed on the water, with great emphasis on whale watching, and we look forward to our continued efforts showcasing Dana Point as the Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World®.”
Dana Point Mayor Jamey Federico commented on the efforts.
“We are so thankful for Donna and Gisele's efforts in earning this designation for Dana Point," Federico says. "They’re truly leaders in their industry, and they truly care about Dana Point being a responsible and sustainable place to learn about marine life. Their dedication to the ocean environment will ensure that Dana Point continues to be the world's premier location for whale watching.”
Lisa Bartlett, Orange County 5th District Supervisor, weighed in her support of the effort.
"It is truly an honor and great achievement for the City of Dana Point, Dana Point Harbor, and our harbor businesses that focus on good stewardship of the ocean, harbor, and coastline, to be the recipient of this prestigious international award," Bartlett says. "This award recognizes the significant work and collaboration of the many stakeholders and is the first time Whale Heritage Sites has designated an awardee in North America.”