Expedition Shark

Stay tuned for more information about our 2024 trip!

Ocean Desert Alliance presents

Expedition Shark

Step into the shoes – or fins – of a shark scientist on “Expedition Shark!” Take a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico, to work alongside powerhouse shark experts from OdySea Aquarium, The Sulikowski Shark and Fish Lab, and the Vermilion Sea Institute to fulfill real-life shark adventures that rival episodes of any nature channel!

Excursions rotate for lucky participants who will take one of two boats out to sea every day to satisfy their inner shark/whale shark passions and curiosities! One trip to Baja will make them true community scientists as they travel with renown shark expert Dr. James Sulikowski, college professor, researcher, and Shark Week star as he and his OdySea Aquarium partners locate, identify, and tag various shark species off the coast in the hopes of pinpointing sacred shark birthing grounds.

On the flip side of tagging these behemoths is the rare opportunity to swim with them! Participants will accompany the Vermilion Sea Institute and OdySea Aquarium experts on another exhilarating boat excursion to swim or snorkel beside docile whale sharks to collect data on these gentle giants’ individual checkerboard skin markings. Like a fingerprint, every whale shark has a unique pattern of pale dots and stripes behind their gills, which allow researchers to track migration patterns and compile information about each shark’s habits and travels.

Data from both the shark tagging and whale shark migration patterns will be shared with researchers globally, making all the work (and exciting real-world opportunities) extremely impactful. Participants can consider themselves true stewards of the sea after they complete their expedition!

Space is limited to 17 participants who are 18 years of age or older. Reservations are first come, first serve, and are NOT finalized until the reservation form is complete and payment is received. Reservation and payment details can be found below.

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Situated along the shores of the Gulf of California within the Bahía de los Ángeles Biosphere reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vermilion Sea Field Station (VSFS) has hosted scientists, conservationists, educators, and students since the 1970’s. Bahía de los Ángeles is a sleepy little town unlike other crowded Mexican tourist destinations. It is primarily known for fishing and was formerly a mining town. It is authentic Mexico at its finest.


Most visitors to Bahía and VSI take the rare and special opportunity to embrace being “unplugged” and find they connect more deeply with the incredible local environment because of it. However, if totally disconnecting isn’t possible, there are a handful of internet cafes in town. There is no cell service in town, but there are usually pay phones available at the internet cafes.


The Vermilion Sea Field Station is first and foremost a field facility for researchers and educators in the environmental sciences with rustic yet enjoyable accommodations. The field station is comprised of a central two-story adobe and stone facility with 12 multi-purpose rooms, a large kitchen, indoor shower and changing room as well as outdoor bucket-flush bathrooms.

Sleeping is typically dormitory style, with cots available for sleeping either inside the field station or outside under the stars.

Please note, VSFS is not equipped with air conditioning.


No prior research experience is necessary to participate in Expedition Shark. You will become a trained community-science researcher. Each day participants will either focus on shark identification and tagging (“Toothy Boats”) or whale shark research (“Filter Boats”). As we will be conducting both studies in the open ocean, we cannot guarantee shark sightings though sharks are known to frequent the area.

Shark tagging helps scientists understand the movement of animals in their natural habitat, leading to the identification of areas that are crucial in the protection for the species in question. Little is known about the shark species that dwell in Bahía de los Ángeles, “Toothy Boat” researchers will be attempting to fish for and identify the elusive species living in that region. Catch-and-release shark fishing provides unique opportunities to learn the intricacies of catching some of the ocean’s apex predators!

To assist in whale shark research, participants will focus on photographing whale sharks and uploading data that is shared collaboratively with researchers all over the world. The distinctive spot patterns of these marine giants are unique to each individual – just like fingerprints are to humans – and can be used to identify and track the sharks we encounter. The Sharkbook for Whale Sharks project aims to combine innovative technology that applies spot pattern recognition algorithms used by astronomers to recognize celestial patterns in the night sky to identify individual whale sharks via these unique, behind-the-gill spots.

This is an educational program. Participants are not required to have previous experience with field studies. Also, participants need not be SCUBA certified, but should be able to swim independently and be comfortable swimming in open water. Finally, given the nature of field-based education programs, a go-with-the-flow attitude is a must!
If you would like to read more about last year’s trip, check out the blog post Shark Bait Ohh Ha-Ha!

At a Glance

2023 Dates:

  • Research Days: September 25-28th
  • Total Trip Days (Including Travel Days): September 24-29th

Leaves from: El Centro, California

Destination: Bahía de los Ángeles, México

Program Cost: $3,000

Recommended for: Active people with an interest in the sea and a desire to create adventure while gathering important data.

General inquiries: [email protected]


Day 1: Depart from El Centro, CA at 6:30 a.m. sharp for Bahía de los Ángeles, arriving approx. 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Stops on the way will include lunch, stretch breaks and scenic views. The road trip is part of the fun and gives opportunities for making new friends, playing car games and the occasional carpool karaoke.

Day 2-5: Early morning into the afternoon: Explore the bay and channel by panga, enjoy amazing snorkel stops, spot wildlife and participate in field work. Return to the field station late morning/early afternoon to debrief and data share. Most evenings you are free to relax, enjoy the educational presentation your hosts have prepared, explore the town, or enjoy the following optional activities: paddleboarding, hiking, exploring wetlands/mangroves, reading, beach-combing, tide-pooling, stargazing, night snorkeling and more!

Day 6: Depart Bahía de los Ángeles at around 6 a.m. for El Centro, CA, arriving approx. 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. (please do NOT schedule returning flights on Day 6 as arrival time cannot be guaranteed).

Important Note: While whale sharks have typically visited the waters off Bahía de los Ángeles each summer, we can not predict that the sharks will be present during this program. Because of the unpredictable nature of wildlife in their natural habitat, there is no guarantee that participants will see or swim with any sharks.


  • Round trip travel from El Centro, CA to Bahía de los Ángeles, México
  • Lodging at the Vermilion Sea Field Station (VSFS)
  • Meals at stops during road trips
  • Delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared fresh at VSFS
  • Boat rental fees and permits for access to the Natural Protected Area of Bahía de los Ángeles
  • Wetsuits and fins
  • Daily educational programming provided by Vermilion Sea Institute, OdySea Aquarium or The Shark and Fish Conservation Lab.


  • Travel to/from El Centro, CA from home location
  • Lodging in El Centro, CA before/after the trip
  • Snacks, sodas, alcohol, souvenirs
  • Snorkels and masks (available for rent for $10/set)
  • Travel & Medical Emergency Insurance (mandatory for every participant)



  1. Registration will occur in two parts. Initial registration will require contact information and a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $500. Secondary registration will be submitted before August 24th, 2023. It will require passport, insurance, medical and dietary information, and the remainder of your payment in full. 
  2. Each person will need a valid passport. Please check your expiration date as soon as possible!
  3. You will also need proof of travel insurance to cover any medical expenses or emergencies while abroad. 
  4. With secondary registration, VSI will offer optional and strongly recommended trip cancellation insurance. This $100 offer will protect your payment after deposit.
  • Example 1: Book in June and decide to cancel in July, you will forfeit your non-refundable deposit ($500)
  • Example 2: Book in June, purchase VSI’s optional cancellation insurance ($100) at secondary registration, and decide to cancel in August. You forfeit your non-refundable deposit ($500) and we refund the remainder of your payment.
  • Example 3: Book in June, choose to decline VSI’s optional cancellation insurance ($100) at secondary registration, decide to cancel in August. You will forfeit your full payment.

While we understand that the COVID situation is ever-evolving. It is VERY UNLIKELY that VSI will cancel trips. If you cancel for ANY REASON the cancellation guidelines above will be followed. We strongly encourage you to register when you are confident you will be able to attend and feel comfortable attending while recognizing that trips may fill. We strive to make all of our stakeholders happy and comfortable, and we maintain careful COVID protocols to keep our participants and community safe. By registering you agree to follow our COVID protocols; these can and will update as necessary. 

Expedition Shark combines a vacation full of adventure, wildlife and nature with the unique opportunity to participate in real community science on some of the world’s most elusive and fascinating animals while working under the guidance of marine biologists.



Our team is committed to the wellbeing and safety of all program participants and to those of the Bahía de los Ángeles community. We are so grateful to continue our field programs and we strive to provide a safe environment for all participants, staff and our community members.

All participants in a Vermilion Sea Institute program will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before beginning any trip. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding in helping us create a safe environment for all.

During this time of widespread pandemic, we are committed to using the best available science and resources to maintain our COVID-19 operations plan.

Please note that the information on this page is subject to change. If you have any urgent questions or concerns, please contact us at [email protected] or reach out to your trip leader directly.


Please don’t hesitate to email [email protected] with any questions. We hope to see you in the field!

Header photo by Courtney Baxter

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