Stars to Sea

Photo Credit: Darcy Higgins

Artist Credit: Darcy Higgins

Gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest fish on Earth. Incredible travelers, they are capable of covering several thousand kilometers across the ocean in a single year! Despite their enormous size, whale sharks are filter-feeders making meals of some of the tiniest creatures on Earth – plankton.

Because whale sharks are docile and approachable, whale shark ecotourism is becoming a popular choice for travelers around the world. In Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico, 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.

The Vermilion Sea Institute has 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

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 their unique, behind-the-gill spots. Through a week-long field-based program in partnership with El Canto de la Tierra, VSI seeks to provide an incredible educational experience for volunteers who will learn how to correctly capture photographs of whale sharks visiting Bahía de los Ángeles, upload these photos to, and help share the project findings with the local community and beyond.

Space is limited to 18 participants. Reservations are first-come, first-serve and are NOT finalized until the reservation form is complete and payment is received. Scholarships may be available. Reservation and payment details can be found below.

2019 Program Dates (18 participants/trip max):

2019 Season Closed – Thanks for a fantastic summer!

Stars to Sea I: Tuesday, Aug 13 to Sunday, Aug 18 – Leaders: Liana & Robyn

Stars to Sea II: Tuesday, Aug 20 to Sunday, Aug 25 – Leaders: Sarena & Josh

Stars to Sea III: Tuesday, Aug 27 to Sunday, Sep 1 – Leaders: Autumn, Courtney, & Cole

Stars to Sea IV: Tuesday, Sep 3 to Sunday, Sep 8 – Leaders: Cole & Meghann

*2020 Stars to Sea program dates will be announced November 2019. Follow us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of our homepage to be the first to know.


$999 per person

All participants receive a $30 discount if paying by check.


  • Round trip travel from San Diego to Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico

  • Lodging at the Vermilion Sea Field Station

  • All meals and water

  • Boat rental fees and permits for access to the Natural Protected Area of Bahía de Los Ángeles

  • Wetsuits/fins


  • 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 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!)

Important Note: While whale sharks have typically visited the waters off Bahia de los Angeles each summer, 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.

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, in door shower and changing room, outdoor bucket-flush bathrooms, an additional family house, and features a fully-articulated fin whale skeleton.

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.

Program Leads:

Liana Vitali

Education and Outreach Coordinator, Vermilion Sea Institute

As the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Vermilion Sea Institute, Liana helps to create and lead international field trips to Baja, Mexico designed to foster firsthand natural history knowledge and immerse participants in meaningful community-based conservation. Earning her Master’s in Zoology at the Miami University of Ohio, her thesis centered on the powerful ability of wildlife media to inspire conservation action. Through her role as Naturalist & Education Coordinator at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland, USA, she develops and leads several interdisciplinary, inquiry-based programs for students and adults and participates in on-site research and monitoring programs.

Meghann McDonald

President, Vermilion Sea Institute

mmMeghann McDonald is a marine ecologist and educator leading place-based field science courses in Mexico and Australia. She graduated with her bachelors from the University of California – Monterey Bay and earned her Masters in Zoology through Miami University’s Global Field Program where she currently serves as an adjunct instructor. She is an avid scientific diver and SCUBA instructor. As President of the Vermilion Sea Institute, Meghann strives to build partnerships and cross-cultural connections that aim to protect and enhance the Sea of Cortez ecosystems.


To register, please click on the button below and fill out all of the required information. Registration forms must be completed for each individual attending the trip. Please note that Registration is not complete until payment is received.


Participants can provide payment to the Vermilion Sea Institute by check or credit card:

Pay by Credit Card – $999/person

*Note that payment must be processed for each individual and cannot be combined into one payment

Pay by Check – $970/person ($29 discount to pay by check)
Please write a check for $970/person (you may combine payments for more than one participant) made payable to the “Vermilion Sea institute” and mail to the following address:

Vermilion Sea Institute
PO Box 1904
Bonita, CA 91908

Refund Policy:

Full refunds will be given for cancellations made on or before April 15, 2019 MINUS a 20% administration fee. Refunds of 50% will be given for cancellations made on or before June 15, 2019. Cancellations after June 15, 2019 will not be refunded.

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


Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Liana at with any questions. We hope to see you in the field!