Life-sized whale paintings being restored along Whale Walk at Doheny State Beach
DANA POINT — A life-sized orca, a fin whale, a minke whale, and a gray whale and her baby have received makeovers at Doheny State Beach’s famed Whale Walk.
Work to repaint these behemoths began Friday, March 8, when Jim Serpa, a former supervising ranger at Doheny and Ed Neely, a board member for the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, used more than a gallon of paint to brighten and redefine a 50-foot humpback’s faded silhouette.
Pedestrian use, rain and sand grinding the paintings has eroded them over time.
“Repainting is much easier because we’re covering mostly painted surfaces,” Serpa said Friday. “It’s like doing a gigantic coloring book. It’s so cool.”
On Saturday, Serpa, Neely and at least 50 volunteers spent the morning painting life into the other whales. The largest of the replicas to be repainted was a 73-foot sperm whale. The smallest was a 29-foot minke whale.
“It’s really cool how hundreds of people walking by us are constantly telling us they love the Doheny Whale Walk and are so happy we’re redoing it,” Serpa said.
The Doheny Whale Walk stretches along almost the entire length of the beach promenade — from the lifeguard headquarters to the end of the walkway at North Beach. Eight whales are represented along the walk — from east to west — along with one dolphin.
The first whale, a blue whale, was created in 1995.
The idea to do the whale paintings along the boardwalk came after Serpa and friend Ken Watson returned from a training session at the Natural History Museum in San Diego.
Serpa was the park’s supervising ranger at the time and Watson was a park volunteer. On the drive home, Watson told Serpa about marine science presentations he did at local schools. As part of those, he incorporated art and music into his programs.
“He told me that one thing he did was help schools paint life-size whales on their black tops,” Serpa said. “I said, ‘Why don’t you help us do that here’ and that’s how the Whale Walk started.”
The project — sponsored by the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association which is tasked with helping the state fund educational projects at Doheny — began as a graphic arts program. Students from local middle and high schools helped paint the whales.
“We would show them how to draw them out to scale using snap lines and chalk,” Serpa said. “Then we would tell them all about the biology of the whale we were doing that day and then we’d paint them. It was a really fun project and we snuck in the learning part right under their noses. It was a win-win.”
The whales have been repainted over the years. About a decade ago, the promenade was completely torn out and replaced with a new walkway. With the new walkway, the whale project began again. Over time, the original whales have been replaced.
Whale Walk was among a few programs introduced to the state park by Serpa, who has long been passionate about the ocean and its life. Others include Grunion Night, Halloween Haunt, campfire shows, Shark Talks and nature and history walks.
“If people don’t know then they don’t care,” he said. “If they don’t care we are all in trouble, including the ocean.”