Stars to Sea
Community Science in Action
Our Stars to Sea program combines vacation full of adventure, wildlife and nature with the unique opportunity to participate in real community 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 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!
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.
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. Reservation and payment details can be found below.
Equitable access to nature is a core value of VSI. We never want money to be the barrier to making a trip, so we have created a scholarship fund to bring the Baja experience to people who would otherwise be unable to visit. You can donate to our scholarship fund here or reach out to us to learn more.
Photos by Courtney Baxter
No prior research experience is necessary on this trip. 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.
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!
At a Glance
Tentative 2022 dates:
S2S 1: August 4 – 9
S2S 2: August 11 – 16
S2S 3: August 23 – 28
S2S 4: August 30 – September 4
Leaves from: San Diego, California
Destination: Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico
Recommended for: Adults
- 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 $10/set)
- Travel & Medical Emergency Insurance (mandatory for every participant)
Photo by Autumn Moore
Day 1: Depart from San Diego at 6:00 am sharp for Bahía de los Ángeles, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm. 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: 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 Bahía de los Ángeles at around 8am for San Diego, arriving approx. 7pm-9pm (please do NOT schedule returning flights on Day 5 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.
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.
Additionally, if on-site WiFi is needed for specific administrative or academic needs, arrangements can be made at the time of reservation. If you have a specific need you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to reach out.
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 and an additional family house.
Sleeping is typically dormitory style, 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.
Our top priority for field station operations is the safety and well-being of all program participants and to those of the Bahia de los Angeles community. During this time of widespread pandemic, we committed to using the best available science and resources to maintain our COVID-19 operations plan. We ask that each program participant carefully review our Safety Commitment and agree to the participant pledge on the last page.
You can find those VSI Safety Commitments HERE. We will periodically update as needed.
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.
So far, there has been no known transmission of COVID-19 at VSFS.
Since June 2020, VSFS has been running in-person courses, apprenticeships, and the Aventureros program, all in addition to hosting independent researchers and scholars. As of May 2021, we have had no known cases of COVID-19 transmission. We credit this success largely to our visitors, participants, and team members following the protocols outlined in our Safety Commitments and Participant Pledge. We are thankful to everyone for continuing to do their part to keep the field station COVID-free!
Please don’t hesitate to email [email protected] with any questions. We hope to see you in the field!
Photo by Courtney Baxter