California family fun: Dana Point whale watching

My family attended the Dana Point Festival of Whales 2014 in an effort to learn more about marine animals in their natural environment. My daughter is absolutely fascinated by the ocean and animals. She is so eager to learn and the festival was a great opportunity to teach her beyond our frequent visits to SeaWorld. She has seen and interacted with killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego but this was her first experience seeing whales in their natural environement. While visiting Dana Point for the weekend, we went on a whale watching trip with Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. The family fun we had in Dana Point whale watching is on our list of favorite learning opportunities. Leading up to the visit I saw online we could expect to see thousands of dolphins but didn’t believe the claim with out first seeing it for myself. We were in absolute awe being surrounded by so many dolphins while aboard Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari’s Manute’a boat.


We reserved our seat on the whale watching tour several weeks ahead of the festival date. We were scheduled for an 8:00 tour and were advised to check in about half an hour early. The festival traffic had us concerned about parking but we had no trouble finding a free spot in the nearby lot. We walked a short distance along the Dana Point harbor to check in for our tour at the red brick building. While waiting for our tour to begin we sat on the deck, applied sunscreen, and chatted with new friends.


The captain arrived promptly to walk with us to the water and climb aboard the Manute’a. The unique whale watching vessel includes the exclusive eye to eye viewing area in the underwater Eye-POD and the eye-spy dolphin nets where you are suspended just inches above the water. The boat also has an underwater research hydrophone so you can hear the dolphin and whale’s underwater sounds. The highly advanced Manute’a had everything we needed for an amazing learning opportunity during my daughter’s first time whale watching in the ocean. 


Before the boat left the dock we were given a safety lesson from the captain. The boat carries up to 49 passengers and safety is a priority. 


In researching whale watching excursions, I read how we could potentially see huge herds of dolphins. Never experiencing it before, I doubted actually seeing thousands of dolphins together. Our captain announced an upcoming dolphin herd and everyone on the boat looked ahead at the rippling water.


As we approached, it was apparent we were in the middle of a huge dolphin herd. My daughter was elated being able to see and hear the dolphins. 


From the eye-spy dolphin nets on the front of the boat, my daughter was able to lay down and feel like she was swimming along with the dolphins. She reached her little hands down below the nets and could feel the water splashing from the dolphins below. 


I visited the Eye-POD underwater viewing pod and was amazed to see the dolphins swimming directly next to me.


The dolphins swam alongside our boat for awhile then moved on to a different area. Our captain explained the dolphins have free roam of the ocean and can swim away at anytime. They seem to enjoy the interaction and were very playful swimming along the boat. The high-speed engines have low emissions with eco-friendly speeds up to 22 knots.

After the dolphins swam away we went on to see other animals including sea lions. My daughter’s favorite animal is the sea lion and she has enjoyed learning about sea lions at SeaWorld San Diego. Seeing the sea lions in the ocean was an amazing experience for her and she quickly noted the sea lions could swim and play all day with their friends.


Our tour ended with spotting several different whales. My daughter was so intrigued and had many questions about the whales.


On our way back to the dock we learned about all the animals we saw. We also heard conservation tips and saw photos of whales in the wild.


During our tour, the crew had taken photos of all the animals we saw. We purchased a collage with a family photo because proceeds go to Captain Dave’s initiatives to give back. The photo capturing our fun day Dana Point whale watching is now hanging near my daughter’s art desk. She is even more inspired each day to learn about ways to protect these amazing animals.


The friendly crew made the experience a great learning opportunity and were happy to answer my daughter’s many questions. She made a new friend during the tour and posed for pictures before we left the boat.


My daughter’s first time whale watching in the ocean was an incredible experience. While she has always been interested in marine animals, her respect for their natural environment grew. She is incredibly focused on learning about conservation and sharing what she learns with her friends. For the first time she was able to go home and tell her classroom friends she saw dolphins, whales, and sea lions in their natural environment. She has talked about protecting the animals in the ocean everyday since we’ve been home and she is very excited for another opportunity to see her favorite marine animals again soon. 

The Manute’a has been broadcasting the daily tours live online since 2010. It’s the world’s only live broadcast of whale watching on the internet! Visit Whalewatch to see the live whale watching stream.

Captain Dave is an enthusiastic conservationist and has written a book along with producing an award-winning film. He founded Orange County’s only whale disentanglement group to rescue whales from nets and is a favorite guest-speaker at world wide events. His conservation efforts include writing a feature-length motion picture to raise awareness about dolphins and whales being harmed daily by fishing gear entanglement. And if that’s not reason enough to support Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari, take it from my daughter, it’s a great opportunity for children to learn firsthand the importance of ocean conservation!

I’m most impressed by the information shared during our tour about ocean conservation. 


What might you see during a tour with Captain Dave?

  • May-December: blue whales
  • December-April: gray whales
  • Year round: fin whales, minke whales, risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, pacific whitesided dolphins, sea lions, brown pelicans, and ocean sunfish!

Make your Dana Point whale watching reservations online at or by calling (949) 488-2828.

When planning your next family visit, be sure to read my tips for whale watching with children.

Learn more about Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari by connecting with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: My family was invited to attend the Dana Point Festival of Whales and were assisted in making all activity and accommodation reservations. We received a complimentary whale and dolphin watching tour provided by Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari.

2 thoughts on “California family fun: Dana Point whale watching”

  1. Hoping as much as you enjoy whales and dolphins you will consider not supporting Seaworld and aquariums. These creatures belong in the ocean where they can swim at their capacity. (75 miles a day)
    Respectfully if you have not watched blackfish, please watch it! I recommend parents watching first, and deciding if your child can handle it.
    If you want to know more about dolphins being captured and sold, see “the cove” documentary, and also look on facebook for Rick O’barry’s dolphin project .
    Have a good day, and thank you for promoting Captain Dave’s whale watching, now this is the way to truly appreciate these animals !


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