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He has a whale of a time at work

Seeing sea creatures is a bonus for Harbor Patrol sergeant Hollenbeck, who loves having the ocean as his beat.

September 05, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol Sgt. John Hollenbeck stands on the SAFE boat, which is used to protect Newport Harbor and surrounding waters.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol… (Mat Luschek, Daily…)

A pod of dolphins swam briskly Friday, maybe as much as three miles from Crystal Cove, too far away to be spotted from shore.

But the mammals didn't go unnoticed: An Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol sergeant looked on.

Marine life sightings are a perk for Sgt. John Hollenbeck, a watch commander at the Harbor Patrol's headquarters in Newport Beach, who spends patrol time scanning the horizon for anything that stands out — be it a stranded vessel or, perhaps, a spouting whale.

Hollenbeck, 46, loves learning about the ocean that he grew up by and now works to keep safe. He is fascinated by everything from its weather patterns to its sea creatures, often using such subjects for his long-time photography hobby.

"I've had a lifetime love affair with this ocean," he said.

Training his eyes on the waters, where the dolphins' small fins raised and lowered, he added that he could hardly imagine life without it.

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Slowing down, Hollenbeck steered the Sheriff's Department boat among the creatures. He identified them as short-beaked common dolphins and recalled the many phone calls the department has received from residents concerned that boaters were trying to run over the creatures.

Upon answering such calls, he always explains that running over a dolphin would be quite difficult. Instead, he said, dolphins simply like to ride the boat's current, just as these creatures were moved rhythmically through the swell alongside the Sheriff's Department vessel.

Harbor Patrol staff respond to a wide range of calls throughout the week, Hollenbeck said.

Some, like the dolphin concerns, are more familiar and can be more easily handled. Others can be alarming, requiring immediate response and physical exertion.

Hollenbeck, who grew up in Costa Mesa and attended Orange Coast College, once considered becoming a marine biologist.

He ultimately decided he needed a profession that might be more financially stable. He applied to work at several local police departments, and his first offer came from the Sheriff's Department. When he learned of the Harbor Patrol, he sealed the deal.

But first, Hollenbeck had to pay his dues. He began in the OCSD academy eight weeks after graduating with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Cal State Fullerton, in 1989. Then, like all deputies, he worked in jail operations. Before he could transfer to Harbor Patrol, he was required to do street patrol next.

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