When we first started whale watching in 1995, the fishing companies took folks out only during the Gray Whale Migration, typically between December and April, on their fishing boats. We offered our trips on our sailboat, and equipped it with an underwater hydrophone and soon, an underwater camera. In 1998 Capt. Dave and I both felt that the time had come when people needed a way to come to Orange County and see the wild dolphins, too…all year round. It was pretty lonely out there in the beginning…searching for dolphins all by ourselves. But lo and behold, Capt. Dave found them..over 90% of the time, and soon we realized that there were resident pods of wild dolphin as large as 5,000. We also learned that there were mainly three species seen, Common dolphin, Risso’s dolphin and Bottlenose dolphin. We also saw the Pacific white-sided dolphin in the colder months.
It was during that year that we visited Yosemite, located about six hours north of Orange County and Los Angeles. We learned on that visit that if John Muir had not educated people about the beauty and vast wilderness of Yosemite through his writing, then Yosemite might very well not be there today for all of us to enjoy. On the six-hour drive back to Orange County, Dave talked about how he wanted to be the John Muir of the Wild Dolphins and Whales that lived off our coast. “We have a living, breathing, moving Yosemite right off the Orange County coast and no one knows.” He was right about that. We would tell our slip neighbors about the dolphins and whales we would see and they were amazed. If people who had boats didn’t know what was out there, then who did? And that was the beginning of our ‘mission’…to educate people about the marine wildlife off Orange County and Southern California and to give them a way to experience that wildlife in an ‘up-close and exciting way’.
Dave took his cameras to work every day, photographing and filming all the dolphins and whales he saw. We began collecting rare items, acquiring the permits necessary to have real whale baleen, sperm whale teeth and other items on board to show people. We bought our first catamaran, so that people could be out front, low to the water and if they chose, they could lay down on our ‘eye-spy dolphin nets’ and get within arm’s reach of the animals. The catamaran also offered folks a way to be out on the water and not suffer from seasickness as much because it was more stable. It also had a nice cockpit area and we enclosed it with eisenglass so it was cozy in the colder months.
Back in 1999, Dave woke me up one night at about 3 A.M. with a new vision of what would be’ really awesome’. He described it as a Disneyland-at-Sea sort of experience. One of the components of that dream was to give people a way to not only see the animals underwater but to give them a way to ‘almost swim with the dolphins’ (without getting wet that is). We’ve never forgotten that dream, and it seems that each year we draw closer to it’s realization. In 2006 we bought our second catamaran, but not before Dave made sure that it had what it took to do an underwater viewing pod. Dave hired a marine architect firm and began the 16-month arduous journey of making (that part of) his dream a reality. Most people would have given up. The USCG had never seen plans like these before, and the Long Beach Office deferred the approval to Washington, DC. No one had ever designed an underwater area such as this in the forward area of a catamaran. After 14 months, several modifications and much lobbying on Dave’s part, the plans were approved. After two more months of building, the dream is a reality and the world’s first “Eye-to-Eye Underwater Dolphin Viewing Pod is ready for passengers to experience.