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Manute’a and How She Upgraded Glass Bottom Boat Tours

Eye to Eye with Humpback Whale Underwater

For over twenty years, Captain Dave and the Dolphin Safari family have been enabling locals and visitors to the Dana Point, California, area to cruise out and take part in unforgettable dolphin and whale watching tours. With a passion that was sparked in the early 1990’s between Captain Dave and his wife, Gisele, aboard a small sailboat, the desire to introduce people to the wonders of the ocean evolved into a five-star whale watching company.

Capt. Dave’s former yellow sailboat, Lucid Dreamer

Capt. Dave’s former yellow sailboat, Lucid Dreamer

As the company grew and expanded, it wasn’t until 2007 when a remarkable opportunity arose. After several years of taking passengers aboard the 35-foot sailing catamaran, “”, a new, larger, and extraordinary whale watching boat joined the fleet. In 2007, Manute’a (pronounced mah-noo-tay-ah) touched down in the Dana Point waters, making our gorgeous southern California area, its new home.

Introducing Manute’a

Manute’a was originally born in Hawaii, belonging to the Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui. After purchasing the vessel in the beautiful Aloha islands, Captain Dave set out onto the open ocean for a long voyage that would bring Manute’a to Dana Point.

Whale watching vessel Manute'a arriving at Dana Point Harbor for first time

Manute’a arriving at Dana Point Harbor for the first time.

Measuring 50 feet long, this remarkable whale watching catamaran came equipped with unique eye-spy tram nets which are different from a glass bottom boat tour, and give passengers a fun, interactive, and up-close look at the wildlife right below their feet.  While this whale watching boat was originally designed to be comfortable and roomy, holding up to 49 passengers, it wasn’t until Captain Dave awoke in the night with an incredible vision that would soon mark the beginning of a breathtaking change to this outstanding whale watching boat.

A Dream Realized

Captain Dave woke his wife in the middle of the night and told her of a marvelous vision he had to place an eye-to-eye underwater viewing pod in his already amazing whale watching boat. The pod would be placed where the hulls of a catamaran sit, and would soon be made of 36 square feet of bulletproof glass. The underwater viewing pod was different from a glass bottom boat tour and would enable passengers be eye to eye with the marine wildlife underneath the water while remaining dry and aboard the vessel.

Construction began in Long Beach, California, where a portion of the metal frame around the hulls of the vessel was replaced with the heavy-duty glass, making it unique from a glass bottom boat tour. When first undergoing the changes, Captain Dave remarked, “It’s a little scary to do something like this, to cut holes in your boat.”

What was quite literally a dream come true was only getting started, as Manute’a underwent extensive inspections for smooth sailing by the local U. S. Coast Guard office based in Long Beach.

During this process he was told “no” multiple times, starting with the Long Beach office. Determined to make his vision a reality, he arranged to have a naval architect complete drawings and other studies that demonstrated the safety of the pods. A “No” shortly followed, leading Captain Dave to travel to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington DC where they gave the “yes” if Long Beach said yes. Long Beach still said “no”…

Eventually, Captain Dave made a video of himself in the current pod location, talking for several minutes. He then walked the camera outside to show that the wave conditions were rather bouncy but that he had been stable and safe within the underwater pod. He brought the recording to the Long Beach Coast Guard office, showed it to them, and they finally said YES!  After a year of inspections, a handful of no’s, and an almost defeated dream, the first underwater viewing pod was added and introduced to the public in 2009.

A child in newly opened underwater viewing pod

Arielle in the newly opened underwater viewing pod in 2009.

Eye-to-Eye Underwater Viewings Pod Experience

Often confused for a glass bottom boat tour, Captain Dave himself explained, “It’s not like looking through a glass bottom boat, which frankly can be a bit dull. You’re surrounded by water in the pod, and you feel like you’re swimming with them (wildlife) as the boat speeds through the ocean. It’s almost like being in an underwater aquarium, or maybe similar to the feeling scuba divers get when submerged underwater – just a lot drier. The glass panels in the hull are about six feet long and three feet tall, and made of bullet-proof glass that is stronger than the actual boat.”

Passenger watching dolphins from underwater viewing pod on Manute'a


Two years after the first pod was put into place, the second pod made its debut, making Manute’a far different from a glass bottom boat tour, and instead, one of the most unique and astonishing whale watching boats in the world.

As passengers make their way down into the pods, they soon discover that they are not aboard a glass bottom boat dolphin cruise. A glass bottom boat tour allows passengers to look down at the surface of the water, whereas the underwater viewing pods enable shipmates to be fully submerged below the surface of the water, eye to eye with the wildlife, while staying completely dry. As the friendly cetaceans zip up, down, and all around the vessel making conversation of clicks and whistles, they curiously stare back at the onlookers who are left both awe-struck and humbled.

Since the first experiences within the pods took place, the responses have been astounding. Alex Lasater said, “This is awesome. It’s not like the zoo, it’s better watching in the wild. They’re more playful, they’re just kind of gliding through the water.” Experiences such as this are what set the tours apart from a glass bottom boat tour. Unlike a glass bottom boat tour, they give passengers the feeling of swimming with dolphins. Better yet, the pods allow onlookers to be in close proximity to the wildlife without causing harm to them or their environment.

What also sets this extraordinary vessel apart from a glass bottom boat tour is the unique micro dolphin and whale museum available on-board. Unlike most glass bottom boat tours, the safari’s aboard Manute’a are both educational and interactive, enabling whale watchers to touch and feel incredible wildlife artifacts. Also unique from a glass bottom boat tour, the trips aboard Manute’a give trained, educated, and certified naturalists the opportunity to facilitate an environment for passengers to view the wildlife at close proximities, while teaching them about what they are viewing.

Unlike any other whale watching boat, Manute’a is both remarkable and unparalleled. With incredible viewing from various areas on the vessel, never overcrowded with ample cushioned seating for all on-board, and home to the world’s only underwater viewing pods, you and your ocean-loving comrades can soon be eye to eye with some of the planets most magnificent mammals while aboard the world’s most unique whale watching boat.

Until then!

Your friends at Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari