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Featured Image: Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching founder Don Hansen died on Wednesday, Jan. 5. Hansen, pictured here beside his daughter Donna Kalez, who owns the whale watching company, was 87 years old. Photo: File/Andrea Swayne

By Breeana Greenberg

Don Hansen, the founder of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching, died on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 87 years old. Hansen is survived by his three sons, three daughters, and 15 grandchildren.

His daughter, Donna Kalez, chief operating officer of Dana Wharf, announced her father’s passing on Facebook.

“Words cannot express the sadness we feel, and we will miss him every single day,” Kalez wrote in the post. “We are so thankful that we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year with him. He made it to the New Year and celebrated by watching his Rams win.”

Hansen started the local whale watching company in the Dana Point Harbor in 1971. He took over the San Clemente Sportfishing, Inc. in 1966 and moved the business to the newly built Dana Point Harbor, where he established Dana Wharf.

Hansen is also credited with being the first to offer whale watching in Orange County and beginning the Dana Point Festival of Whales, which is set to celebrate its 51st year this March.

“Having known that the public had just started to embrace the Gray Whales and the concept of ‘whale watching’ from his time of operations on the San Clemente Pier, it was from there where the original West Coast Whale Watching was born,” Kalez wrote in a Dana Point Times guest column in March 2021.

Kalez added that her dad knew whale watching would take off in Dana Point.

“Whale Watching was something he knew was going to be successful in Dana Point, so he thought, why not a Festival of Whales to celebrate,” Kalez wrote. “After all, the whales migrate past Dana Point every year, much like the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano.”

“To my Dad, I say I am so proud of the legacy you have created,” Kalez wrote.

No funeral arrangements have been made at this time.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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