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Ann Nash points out a minke whale to her son, Raiden, off Dana Point.

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A blue whale diving off Dana Point.

Dana Point becomes the first Whale Heritage Site in the U.S.

29 January 21

It was a freezing, windy, drizzly day sometime in the 1990s when I first went whale-watching. Or at least, as freezing as Southern California can get in the winter. I was on a boat with my schoolmates, many of whom were starting to turn green from being jostled atop the ocean’s rough waves. We were off the coast of Dana Point, looking for migrating gray whales. 

We didn’t see any that day, but I’ve gone back several times in the years since. Dana Point, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, has long been known as one of the country’s top places to spot whales. Gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and others all pass by, using the harbor as a landmark to help them navigate on their migrations. A blue whale diving off Dana Point.

Yesterday (Jan. 28), it was announced that Dana Point has become the first Whale Heritage Site in the U.S. The certification, given by the World Cetacean Alliance and World Animal Protection, recognizes locations with responsible and sustainable whale-watching.

Dana Point joins Hervey Bay, Australia; the Bluff, in Durban, South Africa; and Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area in the Canary Islands as one of four Whale Heritage Sites.

When it comes to whale watching, responsible tourism means letting the whales set the rules. A motorized boat is a noisy intrusion into their home, so it should be up to the whales to decide how close they come and how long they stick around. 

“There’s no cheesy music being piped in, there’s no dancing, there’s no reward of thawed frozen fish” for coming near the boat, Ben Williamson of World Animal Protection told USA Today. “It’s just dolphins and whales being themselves in their natural habitats where they belong.”

It can be tough even for the most educated tourists to know what types of wildlife attractions are sustainable and responsible. Here are a few tips on how to identify them.



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