The 51st Annual Whale Festival returns to Dana Point Harbor

Sculptor artist Yustina Salnikova said she always felt like she had a special relationship with the ocean.

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

Salnikova grew up surfing at Dana Point, so it’s only fitting that the artist and her partner, artist Joel Dean Stockdill, were commissioned by Dana Point Harbor Partners to create a special public artwork for the 51st Whale Festival.

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

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

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’s a pleasure to showcase artists who use post-consumer materials to create art,” said Bryon Ward of Dana Point Harbor Partners and President of Burnham Ward Properties. “Our community values ​​the arts and environmentalism for our ocean and our beaches. This installation highlights our practice of sustainability as we revitalize the port in the years to come.

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

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

Stockdill and Salnikova will begin constructing the sculpture on the lawn at the harbor entrance on March 5, and the work will remain on display throughout the festival.

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

“We made barnacles from plastic bottles that we collected, but we’re going to make the rest of the barnacles from the collected waste and are preparing them for live installation on Saturday,” Salnikova said.

Completing the piece in the intended public space also means artists can have conversations about the art they create with an audience, which Salnikova says is an important component of public art.

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

Stockdill said it was gratifying to see the finished project come to life.

“It’s always such a joy after building, creating and working on a piece for several weeks to finally see it come together in the space it’s going to live in,” Stockdill said.

The Whale Festival begins with the Whale Welcome 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 launch party at the Ocean Institute, featuring live music, food trucks and hands-on educational activities. On March 5 at 10 a.m., the Whale Festival Parade will start on the island across the bridge and head towards the village of Dana Point Harbor.

Gray whale breaching in front of Dana Point harbour.

Gray whale breaching in front of Dana Point Harbor, seen on Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari in Dana Point, California.

(Courtesy of Captain Dave’s Dana Point Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari)

The weekend will also include the Whales Street Fair, Tails and Ales and the Dana Point Fine Arts Assn. To display. Whale-watching excursions are planned around a special festival program, 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 event details, visit

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.

Comments are closed.