51st annual Festival of Whales returns to Dana Point Harbor

The Festival of Whales Parade passes near the harbor in early March 2020.
(Courtesy of Dana Point Harbor Partners)

Sculpture artist Yustina Salnikova said she always felt like she was in a special relationship with the ocean.

“I have been a lover of the ocean since I was a little kid, the second I got to see the ocean for the first time when I moved to California, ” said Salnikova. “Even as a kid I felt married to the ocean.”

Salnikova grew up surfing at Dana Point, so it’s fitting the artist and her partner, artist Joel Dean Stockdill, have been commissioned by the Dana Point Harbor Partners to create a special public art piece for the 51st Festival of Whales.


Dana Point Harbor is known as the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World,” with whale-watching experiences happening year round. On March 5 and 6, the harbor marks the annual migration of California gray whales and the start of whale watching season with the Festival of Whales.

“Fluke: A Tale of Plastic,” a life-sized depiction of an adult gray whale tail in the act of “fluking,” or raising its fluke vertically above the surface, will be part of that celebration. Stockdill and Salnikova’s construction will be made of single-use water bottles and trash collected by Stand Up to Trash volunteers, reclaimed steel and damaged curbside trash bins.

A rendering of the fluking whale sculpture by Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova.
A rendering of the fluking whale sculpture by Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova, commissioned by Dana Point Harbor Partners.
(Courtesy of Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova)

“It is a pleasure to showcase artists who are using post-consumer materials to create art,” said Bryon Ward of Dana Point Harbor Partners and President of Burnham Ward Properties. “Our community highly values the arts and environmentalism for our ocean and beaches. This installation highlights our practice of sustainable development as we revitalize the harbor in the coming years.”

Stockdill and Salnikova have been creating art together for nearly five years, with work almost exclusively made with recycled and reclaimed materials. They also have experience with whale sculpture.

“We are actually the current world record-holders for the largest recycled plastic sculpture, which was a life-size blue whale for the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” said Stockdill.

Stockdill and Salnikova will begin constructing the sculpture on the grass area at the entrance to the Harbor on March 5, and the work will remain on display throughout the festival.

While most of the structure was constructed at their studio in Oregon, the artists will put the finishing touches on the sculpture, mainly barnacles made from bottles provided by Stand Up to Trash, on Saturday.

“We have made some barnacles out of plastic bottles that we have collected, but we are going to make the rest of the barnacles out of the trash collected and we are preparing them for some live installation on Saturday,” said Salnikova.

Finishing the piece in the public space it is intended also means the artists get to have conversations about the art they are creating with an audience, which Salnikova said is a big component of public art.

“I want to inspire people to transform the way they look at waste and material and transform the way they interact with public space,” said Salnikova. “Art has this way of activating space in cities and landscapes that can bring people together in a really unique way that is needed in our world right now.”

Stockdill said it is rewarding to see the finished project come to life.

“It is always such a joy after you have been building and creating and laboring over a piece for many weeks to finally see it coming together in the space that it is going to live,” said Stockdill.

The Festival of Whales starts with the Welcoming of the Whales ceremony on the beach behind the Ocean Institute on Friday, March 4 at dusk. The event is open to the public and will be followed by a kickoff party at the Ocean Institute, with live music, food trucks and hands-on educational activities. On March 5 at 10 a.m. the Festival of Whales Parade will start on the island across the bridge and will march into the village of Dana Point Harbor.

Gray whale calf breaching in front of Dana Point Harbor.
Gray whale calf breaching in front of Dana Point Harbor, seen during Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, Calif.
(Courtesy of Capt. Dave’s Dana Point Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari)

The weekend will also include the Whales, Tails and Ales street fair and the Dana Point Fine Arts Assn. show. Whale-watching excursions are planned around a special festival schedule, and this year’s entire event is dedicated to Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching founder Don Hansen, who passed away in early January.

For more details on the events visit

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