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FESTIVALS & EVENTS : Watches Took a Licking

February 20, 1992|RICK VANDERKNYFF

Whale-watching is big business in Southern California, with three companies offering daily excursions in Orange County alone.

There had been concern in the past two seasons, however, when sightings began to drift downward. Last season, whales were spotted on only about half of the trips, according to figures compiled by the Dana Point-based Orange County Marine Institute. Previous seasons had averaged about 75%.

More whales seemed to be migrating along a route that took them further offshore, along the far side of Santa Catalina Island. Biologists offered a number of theories to explain the mystery, ranging from a change in ocean temperatures to increased harassment from whale-watch boats.

This year, just as mysteriously, sightings are back up. The Marine Institute said sightings are at a solid 75%, while one local operator reported that, so far, this is the best whale-watching season in five years.

Tour operators recommend that whale-watchers wear flat, rubber-soled shoes and always bring a jacket. A camera and binoculars are also suggested. Photographers will want to bring a telephoto lens if they have one.

Tours from Newport Beach generally take about 2 1/2 hours, tours from Dana Point take about two hours (boats from Dana Point can get out to open sea quicker). All boats operated by the companies below have restrooms, along with galleys offering snacks, meals and drinks.

Listed below is information on local whale-watch excursions. All three operators offer "whale checks": if no whales are spotted, passengers are given a free pass for another trip.

DANA POINT

Dana Wharf Sportfishing offers weekday excursions at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. On weekends during the Festival of Whales, through March 8, excursions will be offered each hour from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (normal weekend times are 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m.). Prices are $12 for adults, $7 for children under 12.

Tours depart from 34675 Street of the Golden Lantern, in Dana Point Harbor. Information: (714) 496-5794.

NEWPORT BEACH

Davy's Locker offers tours in conjunction with the local chapter of the American Cetacean Society. Weekday times are 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; weekends are 9 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Prices are $12 for adults, $6 for children under 12.

Tour groups meet at the Balboa Pavilion, 400 Main St., on the Balboa Peninsula. Information: (714) 673-1434.

Newport Landing Sportfishing gives narrated tours weekdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., weekends at 9 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. Prices are $12 for adults, $6 for children under 12.

Tours depart from the Balboa Peninsula, on the landward side between Adams and Palm streets (near the ferry). Information: (714) 675-0550.

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