Meet the Captains!

Whale watching expeditions with Birch Aquarium’s naturalists wouldn’t be possible without the talented and experienced captains at Flagship Cruises & Events. It takes a team to not only spot whales in the open ocean, but also to engage guests, ensure safety, and operate Flagships 90-foot whale watching vessel, Marietta. The Captains have a wealth of knowledge and advice that makes every whale-watching experience memorable and fun in its own unique way. Here is a peak into the experiences, diverse backgrounds, and advice from our captains that helps bring joy to every whale watching adventure.

Hieu Dinh Do (Captain Hieu)

Captain Hieu is known as the Gray Whale whisperer and will go as far as standing on top of the captain’s wheel-house with a pair of binoculars to spot a whale from miles and miles away.

He is originally from Vietnam and came over to the United States as a young child after his parents were sponsored during the Vietnam War. He has lived here ever since and calls San Diego his home with his wife and kids.

His love for boats and the ocean started at an early age when he helped take care of his family’s personal boat. He later worked for one of San Diego’s best sportfishing companies, and today as one of Flagship’s most experience whale watching captains.

Best memory aboard the Marietta: “One time a Gray Whale swam right up to the boat to investigate. It was rolling and swimming back and forth underneath. It happened a few times, but seeing a whale coming up without any worry and clearly knowing the boat was there was the best.”

Advice for whale watchers:  “Show respect. Respect to the whales, nature, and the ocean. There’s so much beauty and the ocean can get so rough, so it’s always important to have respect.”


Frank Charles Meyer the 5th (Captain Charles)

Captain Charles can navigate the Marietta even in the harshest of conditions and is always keen on finding anything and everything that is out in the ocean.

He is originally from Sacramento, California but spent the majority of his early years as a captain in Hawaii, where he received his captain’s license and was a dive instructor in Kauai.

Captain Charles draws experience from his seven years as a captain and time spent as a PADI Scuba Instructor and Dive Master. He enjoys sharing his many ocean experiences from his dives all over the world — including Hawaii, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Sea of Cortez, and California.

Best memory aboard the Marietta: “It’s hard to just choose one, so my top memories have been watching a humpback whale breach over 150 times, seeing 10 adult gray whales migrating together and spotting orcas for one of the first times aboard the Marietta.”

Advice for whale watchers: “Be patient and trust your captain because you never know what you will see.”


Dennis Hedenberg (Captain Dennis)

Captain Dennis always has incredible stories to tell from his experiences as a whale-watching Captain in Hawaii and other parts of the country.  

After growing up in Chicago, Illinois, most of his experience as a Captain has taken place on the West Coast. Captain Dennis has 17 years of experience and has had opportunities to observe Humpback Whales in Maui, Alaska, and Washington. His move to California still allows him to observe whales off our coast but now he gets to witness Gray Whales on their annual migration.

Best Whale watching memory: “Whenever school kids or school groups come on board. Feels good to help out local youth communities.”

Advice for whale watchers:  “Know before you go! Do some research for when it is the best time and season to whale watching and where to go.”


Daniel James Kohler (Captain Dan)

Credit: Ocean Connectors

Captain Dan is one of Flagships newest captains to join the team and his enthusiasm and positivity makes for an unforgettable whale watching adventure!

Captain Dan is from Seattle, Washington and now lives in sunny San Diego. He spends the majority of his time tending to his personal sailboat.

He has been a Captain for 22 years, and most of that time has been spent in Hawaii Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, California. Captain Dan has a wealth of various experiences from driving cigarette boats in Hawaii, running boat tours in Seattle, and operating wake boarding, sport fishing and tourism boats in San Diego.

Best memory aboard the Marietta: “My best memory was a day with very dense fog and zero visibility. Suddenly six whales came out of nowhere and started swimming back and forth underneath the boat. It was a mind-blowing experience!”

Advice for whale watchers: “Always remember to use the handrails and watch your step on any whale watching vessel!”

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego