Stars to Sea
Community Science in Action
Immerse yourself in adventure, wildlife, and nature with our “Stars to Sea” program, offering a unique opportunity to engage in genuine community science focused on one of the world’s most elusive and captivating creatures. This expedition unites individuals from diverse backgrounds to support the scientific community in unraveling the secrets of this endangered species and contributing to global conservation efforts.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest fish on Earth, reaching lengths of 40 feet. Lack of knowledge about habitat and migration patterns makes experiencing these amazing creatures a challenge. Fortunately, The Vermilion Sea Field Station, located in Bahía de los Ángeles, has been fortunate enough to host these magnificent fish and a rich variety of marine life year after year. Our Stars to Sea community science program brings together individuals from a variety of backgrounds to help the scientific community uncover the mysteries of this threatened species and aid in world-wide conservation efforts!
Whale sharks, known for their friendly and approachable nature, have become ocean ambassadors and a key focus of the growing ecotourism industry in Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico, the home of the Vermilion Sea Field Station. These majestic creatures congregate in the waters here during the summer and fall months, drawing numerous visitors and serving as a vital economic catalyst for the local community.
At VSI, our mission is to forge meaningful connections between marine wildlife, the community, and you—our valued participants—to work towards a sustainable future for all.
Please note that we have limited space for just 20 participants. Reservations are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Photos by Courtney Baxter
At a Glance
Leaves from: San Diego, California
Destination: Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico
Program Cost: $1,400
Recommended for: Active people with an interest in the sea and a desire to create adventure while gathering important data.
S2S1: August 3-8
S2S2: August 12-17
S2S3: August 21-26 (trip full, join waitlist)
Sign up for our newsletter below to get first access to registration for 2025!
No prior research experience is necessary on this trip. You will become a trained community-science researcher, photographing whale sharks and uploading data that are 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 uses 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!
- Round trip travel from San Diego to Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico
- 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
- 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 $15/set)
- Travel & Medical Emergency Insurance (mandatory for every participant)
Photo by Autumn Moore
Day 1: Depart from San Diego at 6 a.m. sharp for Bahía de los Ángeles (in two 15 passenger vans), arriving approx. 7 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: arly morning into the afternoon: Explore the bay and channel by panga, enjoying amazing snorkel stops, wildlife spotting and participate in whale shark field research involving locating the whale sharks, in-water observation, taking behind-the-gill photographs for photo identification of individuals, and returning to the field station to upload photographs and potentially identify new or returning sharks. Most evenings you are free to relax, explore the town, participate in a field station “Betterment Project” enjoy activities with the kids from our local youth program, the Aventureros, or the following optional adventures: kayaking, hiking, exploring wetlands/mangroves, reading, beachcombing, tide-pooling, stargazing, night snorkeling, and more!
Day 6: Depart Bahía de los Ángeles at around 6 a.m. for San Diego, 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. Therefore, there is no guarantee that participants will see or swim with a whale shark.
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.
We are in one of the rare few spaces left in the world without cell service. Most visitors to Bahía and the Vermilion Sea Field Station 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 local restaurants within walking distance with WiFi access.
The Vermilion Sea Field Station is first and foremost a field facility for researchers and educators in the environmental sciences with minimalistic and rustic, yet enjoyable accommodations. The field station consists of a central two-story adobe and stone facility with 12 multi-purpose rooms, a large kitchen, outdoor bucket-flush bathrooms and an additional family house.
Most participants at our field station choose to sleep outside under the starry skies, as the nights stay quite warm. This outdoor sleeping option offers a slightly cooler and more immersive experience. However, we understand that weather conditions can be unpredictable, and some individuals may prefer or need indoor accommodations which are available as needed in shared rooms designed for storing participants’ belongings. It’s important to note that the Vermilion Sea Field Station does not have air conditioning.
Please be mindful that fresh water is a precious resource in our location. While we do provide an indoor and outdoor shower for rinsing, we actively practice water conservation to ensure sustainability. Additionally, we encourage individuals to utilize the ocean for bathing, using eco-friendly products to minimize environmental impact.
As a working field station, we emphasize a communal ethos where each visitor is responsible for pitching in to clean up after themselves and help maintain the facility. We encourage everyone to leave it better than they found it, ensuring that the station remains a welcoming and sustainable facility for all who use it.
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.
S2S1: August 3-8 lead by Mike Haughwout
S2S2: August 12-17 lead by Lindsay Simpson
S2S3: August 21-26 lead by Polly Diffenbaugh (trip full, join waitlist)
Exciting news for this year! We’ve introduced a new feature on our registration platform that allows you to rally support from friends and family. Now, you can invite others to contribute towards your registration fees, whether it’s a lot or a little. It’s a fantastic way to make your trip even more memorable with the help of your loved ones.
We also have payment plans available!
Each participant must have a valid passport, so please confirm its expiration date promptly. Additionally, you must provide proof of travel insurance that covers potential medical expenses and emergency evacuations while abroad.
We offer two types of registration:
- Refundable Registration ($1550): If you choose this option, your total registration fee is $1500, but only $300 of your initial deposit is nonrefundable. You can cancel at any time for a refund of $1250.
- Discounted Registration ($1400): With this option, your total registration fee is only $1400, but your registration is nonrefundable and non transferable..
Please keep in mind that the initial $300 deposit is always nonrefundable, regardless of your chosen registration type.
Please note that the information on this page is subject to change. If you have any urgent questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email [email protected] with any questions. We hope to see you in the field!
Photo by Courtney Baxter
Header photo by Courtney Baxter