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Don Hansen, pioneer of whale watching and sportfishing in Southern California, honored in Dana Point

Donna Kalez, left, and O.C. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, right, pull the covering off as they unveil the Hansen Plaza plaque.
Donna Kalez, left, Don Hansen’s daughter, and O.C. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, right, pull the covering off as they unveil the Hansen Plaza plaque at Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022 in Dana Point. Attendees included Donna Kalez’s family members, standing on the left side, and Mayor Joe Muller, second from right, and Bryon Ward, Burnham-Ward Properties president, far right.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Dana Point bills itself as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World, but city officials and business leaders acknowledge such a distinction was made possible in large part by one man.

“The Harbor would not be what it is today without Don Hansen’s vision and leadership,” said Bryon Ward, president of Burnham-Ward Properties and a partner of Dana Point Harbor Partners.

Don Hansen founded Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching and is credited with being the first in Orange County to host whale watching and establishing the Dana Point Festival of Whales. On Aug. 3, Dana Point Harbor Partners honored Hansen, who passed away in January at 87, with a special plaque dedication.

“It is important to us that visitors and future generations know Don Hansen’s story, which is why this plaque will be incorporated into the Harbor revitalization to ensure his legacy will live on forever through the Hansen Plaza,” said Ward.

The plaque isn’t the city’s first acknowledgement of Hansen’s impact. In February, the City Council voted to designate a portion of Dana Point Harbor Drive as Don Hansen Memorial Drive.

“Since the passing of Don Hansen on Jan. 5, we have worked closely with Dana Point Harbor Partners to find a way to permanently honor Don’s many contributions to the community and his legacy as a pioneer of whale watching and sportfishing in Southern California,” said O.C. 5th District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

Bryon Ward speaks at the ceremony for the Hansen Plaza plaque.
Bryon Ward, Burnham-Ward Properties president, speaks during the unveiling ceremony for the Hansen Plaza plaque at Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching on Aug. 3 in Dana Point.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Hansen first traveled from his hometown of Iowa City, Iowa to Orange County to visit family in San Clemente in 1938. His family soon moved there, and in 1947, Hansen worked his very first job as a sixth grader, hauling fish off the San Clemente Pier in a little red wagon for tourists. He spent summers working in high school as a deckhand.

After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean War, Hansen found work at San Clemente Sportfishing, eventually buying the business. He began using his fleet to take local students on tours to see dolphins and whales, Orange County’s first-known whale-watching tour. In 1971, he became Dana Point Harbor’s first tenant, when he renamed his business and moved it to the Harbor.

Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching turned 50 in 2021. Hansen is survived by a large family that includes three sons, three daughters and 15 grandchildren. Hansen’s daughter, Donna Kalez, was present for the dedication and thanked Dana Point Harbor Partners for the plaque and the renaming of the plaza.

The Hansen Plaza plaque was unveiled at Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching on Aug. 3.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Bartlett said the efforts are a great tribute to Hansen’s work.

“Visitors to the Harbor, and guests departing on whale watching or fishing adventures, will now be able to gather in Hansen Plaza and read the plaque to learn about Don Hansen’s legacy,” Bartlett said.

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