Stars to Sea

Our Stars to Sea program combines adventure, wildlife and nature with the unique opportunity to participate in real citizen-science research on one of the world’s most elusive and fascinating creatures in one of the world’s most beautiful marine reserves!

About the Program:

Our Stars to Sea program combines vacation full of adventure, wildlife and nature with the unique opportunity to participate in real citizen-science research on one of the world’s most elusive and fascinating creatures!

Gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest fish on Earth with a maximum of around 40 feet in length. Lack of knowledge about habitat and migration patterns makes experiencing these amazing creatures a challenge.  Fortunately, The Vermilion Sea Field Station has been lucky enough to welcome these huge fish, along with an abundance of other marine life each year in Bahía de los Ángeles. Our Stars to Sea citizen-science program brings together individuals from a variety of background and experience to help the scientific community uncover their mysteries of this threatened species and aide in world-wide conservation efforts! Read more below to learn about our Stars to the Seas whale shark citizen-science program, and see how you can get involved all while experiencing the magic that is Baja. 

Due to their docile and approachable nature, whale sharks have become ambassadors of the oceans and a targeted species for the ever-growing ecotourism industry. In Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico, the home of the Vermilion Sea Field Station, whale sharks visit the water en masse throughout the summer and fall months bringing many visitors to this region and serving as an important economic driver for the community. Here at VSI, we strive to create meaningful connections between the marine wildlife, the community, and you, our participants, in order to build a sustainable future for both.    

Registration has closed for 2020 trips. Check back for 2021 dates soon or join our mailing list to receive an update.

Current Participants:

  • Cancel for Any Reason Insurance:  Learn how you can add insurance to protect all registration fees paid to Vermilion Sea Institute by purchasing $100 insurance directly from us by clicking HERE. (Note: This insurance does not cover flights, hotel or incidentals).
  • Pay Remaining Balance:   If you have already registered and paid a deposit, you may pay your remaining balance by clicking HERE by May 31, 2020.
  • SCUBA during Stars to Sea Trip: If you are a certified SCUBA diver you may add an a SCUBA excursion during your trip. Learn more by clicking HERE.

About the Research:

No prior research experience is necessary on this trip, where you will become a trained citizen-science researcher, 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 Wildbook 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. 

Wildlife we frequently see around in a typical trip:

  • Whale sharks**
  • Mobula rays
  • Dolphins
  • Whales
  • Sea lions
  • A variety of species of birds 
  • Marine invertebrates
  • Many species of game and reef fish
  • Octopuses
  • Sea turtles


  • Round-trip travel from San Diego to Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico
  • Lodging at the Vermilion Sea Field Station
  • Chef-prepared meals and purified water 
  • Boat rental fees and permits for access to the Natural Protected Area of Bahía de Los Ángeles
  • Island permits and Mexican visas
  • Wetsuits/fins
  • Optional activities including paddleboarding, kayaking, night snorkeling, hiking and more!


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

Sample Trip Schedule

  • Day 1 – Depart San Diego at 6:30am sharp for Bahía de los Ángeles, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm;
  • Day 2 through Day 5 – Early morning into the afternoon: Whale shark field work involving locating the whale sharks, in-water observation, taking behind-the-gill photographs of individuals, and returning to the field station to upload photographs and potentially identify new or returning individuals. Most evenings free to relax, explore the town, or enjoy the following optional activities: kayaking, hiking, exploring wetlands/mangroves, reading, beachcombing, tide-pooling, stargazing, night snorkeling, and more!
  • Day 6 – Depart Bahia de los Angeles at 8am for San Diego, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm (please do NOT schedule returning flights on Day 6 as passing the Mexican border back into America can take anywhere from 1-3 hours or more!)

About Vermilion Sea Institute:

We are a 501(c)3 non profit organization with a long history of coordinating trips, classes, and research efforts in the Sea of Cortez and Baja. Our mission is to foster sustainable and enriching relationships between human societies and the ecosystems that support them. We have partnered with the Mexican non profit organization – El Canto de la Tierra – to build upon its rich history of Baja sea and desert research by creating the Stars to Sea program. This educational program teaches participants how to take photos of the whale sharks visiting Bahia and add these to the global database at All of which contribute to both whale shark research and conservation efforts worldwide.  A portion of the proceeds from every trip go to support educational initiatives with local school children.

Background Experience: 

This is an educational program. Participants are not required to have previous experience with field studies or research. 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!


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, outdoor bucket-flush bathrooms, an additional family house, and features a fully-articulated fin whale skeleton aptly named Finnigan.

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

For additional information such as a suggested packing list and other travel related questions, please review the VSI Stars to Sea Trip Planner which will be provided with registration confirmation.

Internet and Telephone Access:

There are limited wifi options in Bahía de los Ángeles. There are a handful of internet cafes in town, but they are not guaranteed. There is no cell service in town, but there are usually pay phones available at the internet cafes. Most visitors to Bahia and VSI take the opportunity to embrace being “unplugged” from typical life and find they connect more with the incredible local environment because of it.

Registration and Payment:

To register, please click on session dates above and fill out all of the required information. You may register more than one participant at once. Please note that Registration is not complete until payment is received. Participants can provide payment to the Vermilion Sea Institute by electronic check or credit card:

Pay by Credit Card – $999/person

Option to Pay Deposit Only: Pay $400 at the time of registration with a credit card and then Pay remaining $599 by clicking HERE.

In consideration of the uncertainty and potential financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have extended the “Final Payment Due” deadline to May 31

If you have not purchased trip insurance, I highly recommend you do so now and add a “Cancel for any reason” enhancement. Typically this costs a bit more but it can ensure that any lost deposits or airline tickets are refunded to you. Even if you’ve already obtained your emergency medical insurance for the trip, there are additional policies

Refund Policy:

Full refunds will be given for cancellations made on or before April 15, 2020 MINUS a $200 administration fee. Refunds of 50% will be given for cancellations made on or before June 15, 2020. Cancellations after June 15, 2020 will not be refunded. 

You may purchase “Cancel for any reason” trip insurance directly from us for $100, which protects the entire cost of your trip. To learn more click HERE.

​Thank you and we look forward to seeing you in the field!


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


**Note: While whale sharks have typically visited the waters off Bahia de los Angeles each summer, they are not very “whale” trained, and we can not predict that the sharks will be present during this program. Therefore, there is no guarantee that participants will see or swim with a whale shark.

We’re proud to partner with Waterlust for our best water gear. Click the image below or here, to browse the goodies and 25% goes directly back to VSI