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Dana Point Whale Heritage Area
Dana Point

Dana Point Whale Heritage Area


Boat-based wildlife tours
Celebratory events or festivals
Boat-based wildlife tours
Self-guided wildlife walks


Dana Point is located on the coast of southern California, halfway between the cities of San Diego and Los Angeles. Within five miles of the shore lives a vast ecosystem of abundant marine wildlife. Underwater coastal canyons and large kelp beds are within a mile of the shoreline and provide rich habitats for numerous species of marine life, including several species of cetacean.

With a variety of whales to be seen year-round, more dolphins per square mile than anywhere in the world, the first and longest-running annual Festival of Whales, and a captivating harbour minutes from the open ocean, it’s no wonder that Dana Point is also known as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World.

Dana Point is one of the best places to view a plethora of cetacean species, offering daily whale watching trips with responsible companies on a variety of vessels. Dana Point headlands afford people the opportunity to whale and dolphin watch from land, and the calm ocean waters and deep coastal canyons near shore provide close proximity for whale and dolphin watching from the sea.

Residents of Dana Point value living in a coastal community where the ocean is at the heart of their quality of life. Dubbed sunny California’s “original surf’ town, visitors can choose from an abundance of beach and water activities, including events such as the Tall Ships Festival, Blues Festival, Surfing Santa Festival, and, of course, the Festival of Whales.

At the edge of the open ocean, the Dana Point Marine Life Refuge and the historic headlands is the Ocean Institute, a non-profit educational facility serving the needs of the educational community and promoting ocean awareness and preservation.


We are members of the World Cetacean Alliance, and becoming a Whale Heritage Area has been a top priority after successfully trademarking 'Dana Point: Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World'. With our community’s full support, we want the dolphins and whales of Dana Point to receive the worldwide recognition they deserve.

We are passionate about the dolphins and whales in our area and want to bring them the recognition and protection they richly deserve in ways that also educate and enrich the lives of the public.

We believe that the reputation of the WCA and the credibility that being a Whale Heritage Area offers will help to impact the world with the knowledge of our cetaceans and inspire them to visit Dana Point and have a first-hand experience.

Boundary Map

Species or habitats

Long and short-beaked common dolphins in pods of 1,000 to 10,000 are seen year-round in Dana Point. Risso’s and bottlenose dolphins are also regularly sighted in large pods throughout the year. Pacific white-sided dolphins can be seen from October through June.

Endangered blue whales can be encountered between May and November. During the winter and spring, both visitors and the local community enjoy the spectacular gray whale migration.

Humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, and more can be seen all year long, with occasional sightings of Bryde’s whales, sei whales, killer whales, pilot whales, false killer whales, and sperm whales.

Area Features

Gray whale, blue whale, humpback whale, short-beaked common dolphin and Rissos’ dolphin. - Species


Gray whale: Increasing

Blue whale: Increasing

Humpback whale: Increasing

Short-beaked common dolphin: Increasing

Rissos’ dolphin: Unknown


Fishing gear is one of the main threats to cetaceans. It leads to injuries or even death.

The busy maritime traffic in Dana Point increases the risk of collisions. Anthropogenic noise from boat traffic can also disrupt the natural behaviour of cetaceans. These animals rely heavily on echolocation and communication for navigation, feeding, and socialising. Excessive noise pollution can interfere with these crucial activities, leading to stress, disorientation, and potential negative impacts on their overall well-being.

Dana Point is part of an urbanised coastal area, and pollution from urban runoff, industrial discharges, and other sources can introduce contaminants into the marine environment. Pollutants, such as oil, chemicals, and plastics, can negatively affect whales and dolphins. Climate change has wide-ranging effects on the marine environment, impacting the availability of prey species, altering ocean temperatures, and causing changes in migration patterns.

Actions taken for protection

There are several local and regional programmes or projects that are working to address these threats. Some initiatives to reduce pollutants are the replacement of water bottles with paper cartons to reduce plastic; the quarterly collection and recycling of used fishing line; promoting the “Ocean Friendly” initiative of the Surfrider Foundation that designates restaurants as ocean-friendly if they meet specific criteria for sustainability; beach clean ups; and joining the “Balloons Blow” program by directing the whale and dolphin watching vessels to make at least one balloon pick up per trip.

To address the threats of fishing gears, Captain Dave founded Orange County’s first whale rescue team, alongside a network of NOAA-trained disentanglement team members, and the publication of the book "Lily, A Gray Whale's Odyssey" to raise awareness of the problem.

Stakeholders also promote awareness of responsible whale watching practices by providing annual virtual training to boaters on “Dolphin and Whale Watching Success and Safety”.

Community Importance

Dana Point has already been recognised with the trademark of “Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World(R), an accomplishment celebrated by its residents, receiving proclamations from the City of Dana Point, as well as the County of Orange. This designation brings a tremendous amount of pride and prosperity to the community.

The whale watching industry creates employment opportunities for local residents, and also draws whale watchers from around the world to stay in our hotels and enjoy our restaurants, with tremendous economic benefits that continue to grow each year. Local residents and businesses often collaborate to support and promote the industry, creating a sense of community engagement.

Whale watching not only brings economic prosperity to the community but also contributes to social well-being, education, and community engagement. The industry's success relies on a balance between economic activities and the sustainable conservation of marine resources. Many whale watching companies in Dana Point collaborate with researchers and marine biologists to collect valuable data on whale behaviour, migration patterns, and population dynamics. This data is crucial for scientific research and contributes to conservation efforts aimed at protecting these majestic marine animals.

Wildlife Watching Guidelines

There are whale watching guidelines developed by the National Marine Fisheries, a division of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), to ensure that any interaction with cetaceans is done in a respectful manner with a minimal level of disturbance.

Whale Safe Guidelines:
See a blow - Go slow.
Slow down and approach at the same speed as the whale.
Carefully approach from the right or left flank, do not pull in front or behind of the whale.
Always attempt to stay 100 yards away from a whale.
If a situation arises when you cannot avoid a whale, assume no-wake speed and put the vessel into neutral.

Move into the path of a whale.
Move faster than a whale.
Change speed or directional changes.
Get between two whales.
Chase any whales.
Feed or touch any whales.

Fact 1

Risso’s dolphins are often covered in scars from interactions with other Risso's (teeth marks) and from squid. These dolphins are regularly sighted in pods of up to 100 individuals throughout the year.

Fact 2

The gray whale migration takes place during the winter and spring. Gray whales will make a 12,000 mile round trip from the Bering Sea down to Baja California in Mexico, passing by Dana Point. During the migration, people have an opportunity to see gray whale newborns.

Fact 3

This area is an important feeding ground for humpback whales before their migration for breeding grounds, as in Mexico.


1. Cultural Importance Of Wildlife

1.1 Cultural heritage links people to cetaceans demonstrating an understanding and on-going respect for cetaceans and habitats.

1.2 The presentation and interpretation of cultural heritage that is linked to cetaceans is respectful and sensitive to those living and working in the Whale Heritage Area.

1.3 Efforts are in place to continually revive, reimagine, and enhance cultural heritage linking people to cetaceans.


2. Respectful Human-Wildlife Coexistence

2.1 The community works collaboratively to ensure cetaceans are protected through research, nature conservation, regenerating biodiversity, and safeguarding individual animals from harm.

2.2 The community raises awareness about the protection of cetaceans, including ways for everybody to help contribute to solutions.

2.3 The community influences the protection of cetaceans through strategies that are based on practical, scientific, or traditional knowledge.

2.4 The community recognises that there may be differences in opinion, interests or values related to the protection of cetaceans, and meets this challenge through continual dialogue, collaboration, and mediation where necessary.

2.5 The community supports and implements sustainability and environmental initiatives that have a positive impact on cetaceans and the marine environment

2.6 The community regularly monitors the health and protection of cetacean populations and adopts strategies based on the latest evidence.


3. Responsible Wildlife Tourism

3.1 The community has strategies in place to identify and raise awareness about exploitative, extractive, or consumptive captive or wild cetacean tourism attractions.

3.2 The community promotes responsible wild whale and dolphin watching experiences.

3.3 Responsible whale and dolphin watching guidelines are adopted within the Whale Heritage Area and regularly updated to follow expert or science-based best practice. These guidelines conform to international, national, or local legislation where it exists.

3.4 Efforts are made to enforce responsible whale and dolphin watching guidelines and international, national, or local legislation where it exists.

3.5 Tourism and the behaviour of tourists are well managed to reduce negative impacts on cetaceans and habitats.

3.6 The community plays a key role in designing and operating responsible whale and dolphin watching experiences, which provide direct social and economic benefits.

3.7 The community monitors the impacts of tourism on targeted species and habitats and regularly acts to reduce those impacts based on the latest evidence.


4. Steering Committee

4.1 The steering committee is an elected body that seeks to be inclusive and representative of all stakeholders.

4.2 The steering committee makes substantial efforts to engage the wider community, including those not traditionally associated with cetaceans or conservation.

Management Plan

Management Plan File


Dana Point Whale Heritage Area
Name Location
Dana Point
Name Species Group
Name Habitat Group
Approximate size (sq km)
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