Creature Feature: Spinner Dolphin

Common Facts:

Scientific name – Stenella longirostris

Diet – Small fish and squid

Size – 6-7 feet, 130-170 pounds

Lifespan – up to 20 years

Most of us are familiar with dolphins—the fun and playful porpoises that can often be seen leaping out of the water to socialize with each other and with humans. One type of dolphin that you may not be as familiar with is the Spinner Dolphin.

Spinner dolphins are named after their above the water theatrics—they love to leap out of the water and spin a few times on their body axis while doing so. Some can spin as many as four times around in one leap.

These dolphins love to stay together and are usually found in huge groups. They do their hunting at night, feeding mainly on mid-water fishes and deep-water squid, and then they rest during the day time.

Spinner dolphins can been found all over the world, mainly in tropical and subtropical oceans. For some reason, Spinners tend to follow groups of Yellowfin Tuna around. Because of this, fishermen seeking Tuna will often track the dolphins in order to get to them. Oftentimes, the dolphins are caught in the nets with the tuna, and because of this, their population is decreasing.

Thankfully, “Fishing methods for tuna imported into the U.S. under the Dophin-Safe program do not allow fishing practices, such as setting on dolphins.” The Spinner Dolphin population is at a stable number right now.

So if you are ever in a warm and tropical area, close to the ocean, stay alert to see if you can see any Spinner Dolphins. If you do, you are in for a show!

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Written by: Kari Shirley, intern


Marine Camp 2016: Wanted – Enthusiastic and Fun Camp Staff

Wanted: Engaging, high-energy, compassionate and fun instructors and counselors to lead our summer camp! CLICK HERE to apply and join the team.

Marine Science Camp is proud to have a passionate and fun team of instructors, counselors and volunteers each summer. The foundation of this team of educators and leaders is not only their knowledge of marine science, but also their ability to inspire campers. They spark an appreciation for marine science and local habitats while promoting friendship, teamwork, and curiosity.

Our qualified team of highly motivated instructors, counselors and volunteers are outside with the campers every day. Instructors and counselors facilitate hands-on learning and teambuilding in a safe and fun environment. They are CPR and First Aid certified, background checked, and undergo an extensive 2 week training period prior to camp.

Instructors have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in fields varying from biology and marine science to education and environmental studies or other similar fields. Most teach with MSI throughout the year; they are dedicated, experienced and have taught a variety of programs to grades from pre-kindergarten through college. Instructors at Marine Camp lead camper learning, supervise campers and are primarily in charge of safety. They are the crew of our 90 foot research vessel and undergo extensive training and regular safety drills to comply with Coast Guard safety standards. Many have field research experience and relate it to topics learned at camp. Our fantastic Instructors are role models who inspire and share their passion for marine science with campers of all ages.

Marine Camp Counselors are in college or have already received their degrees. They work closely with the Instructors helping with activities, assist in overall supervision and aid in providing an understanding of marine topics. Many of our counselors are pursuing degrees in the sciences and are interested in marine science or education as a career. Marine Camp is an excellent summer opportunity for them to get first-hand experience.

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Rounding out the summer staff are our amazing volunteers, who are a crucial part of the summertime fun. They act as an extra set of eyes, ears and hands, and they also act as role models to ensure our campers are staying safe and having fun. Volunteers join staff and campers for every activity and field trip. They are buddies, helpers, and friends to each and every camper—especially the campers that benefit from having just a little extra help making friends and getting involved. Volunteers join us for different amounts of time—for just one week to almost the whole summer! Some of our campers have become volunteers, who later become Counselors and Instructors! We are so grateful to have these inspiring and energetic people as a part of our team. CLICK HERE to learn more about volunteer opportunities during the summer and beyond.

If YOU match any of these descriptions, CLICK HERE to learn more and apply. I look forward to greeting new and old members onto the team.

Creature Feature: Sunfish


Common Facts:

Diet – Jellyfish, small fish, zooplankton and algae

Size – Up to 14 feet

Weight – Up to 5,000 pounds

Habitat – Open Waters

Sunfish, also known as Mola, are one of the largest fishes to be found in the ocean. Out of all the bony fish, they are heaviest. The largest Sunfish have been known to reach 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally and can weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Which is a little shocking for a fish that looks so much like a pancake.

“Sunfish, or mola, develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin which they are born with simply never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the enormous creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus.” Their odd shape makes them awkward swimmers. They use their dorsal and anal fins to move and steer with their clavus.

Sunfish can be found in the warm and tropical oceans around the world. They love to rest just below the surface of the water, so that they can bask in the sun, hench the name Sunfish. Sometimes, when one of their big fins sticks up out of the water, people mistake them for sharks. But don’t be alarmed, Sunfish are not a threat to humans.

Oftentimes, Sunfish become infested with skin parasites. When this happens, they allow small fish and sometimes even birds to peck at their skin and get the parasites out.

Sunfish love to eat jellyfish, it is their main source of nutrients. Unfortunately, at times, they mistake plastic bags floating in the ocean as jellyfish, and have been known to choke on the bags. So be aware of your surroundings when you are at the beach! If you see trash, pick it up! You may be saving one of these beautiful, gentle creatures.

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Written by: Kari Shirley, intern


Creature Feature: Bat Ray

Common Facts:

Scientific name – Myliobatis californica

Habitat – Sandy seafloors

Range – Eastern Pacific from Oregon, to the Sea of Cortex and near the Galapagos Islands

Diet – Molluscs, crustaceans, small fish

Size – Female can reach wingspans of 6 feet and weights of 200 pounds, while males are smaller

Life Span – Up to 35 years

The Bat Ray is an animal that we see often at the Marine Science Institute because many of them live here in the San Francsico bay! These graceful creatures get their name from not only the way they look, but they way they swim. They swim by flapping their pectoral fins (which have a strong resemblance to wings). They love to hang out in muddy and sandy bottomed bays, kelp forests and near coral reefs.

Bat Rays use their “wings” for more than just moving around. They flap their fins to stir up the sand on the ocean floor to expose potential food sources. Once they find something to eat, like a clam, they can use their snout to dig them up. Bat Rays have teeth that are fused into plates. This enables them to crush almost any clam shell. They crush the shell, spit out the shards and get the soft and fleshy parts. And lucky for Bat Rays, their teeth are constantly growing! So if a tooth ever breaks, they have nothing to worry about—it will be replaced soon.

Bat Rays tend to be lone riders, except when it’s mating season or time to feed. Female bat rays carry their babies for 9-12 months before giving birth. And they can give birth to 2-12 pups! Depending on how big the mother is.

If you’re ever swimming and see a Bat Ray, it would be better to keep your distance. These creatures have 3 poisonous barbs on their tails that they use to defend themselves from predators. And they won’t stop to ask if you are friend or foe before they use them!

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Written by: Kari Shirley, intern

Intern Update: Using Skillsets

Summit Public Schools is a high performing charter school organization with seven schools in the Bay Area, including two high schools in Redwood City, Everest and Summit Prep, and two in San Jose, Tahoma and Rainier.  Internships are a part of their unique Expeditions program and take place during the school year and school day. They provide an invaluable opportunity for students to get some adult work world experience, explore a possible career, develop confidence and strengthen their communication skills.


During internships students are required to submit journal entries weekly to their advisors. This week I would like to share Danielle’s journal entry.


Journal Question #2: Talk about something new that you have learned at your internship. Describe what you learned, how you learned it, and what it helped you understand or do at your internship.  Will you be able to use this new knowledge or skill in the future?


Danielle: While interning at the Marine Science Institute, I have learned a lot about what being a marine scientist might be like, and what goes on behind the scenes of the programs. When I did a trip out on the boat as a data collector, I learned how marine scientists figure out how many of a species are in a given area. When the kids in the class brought in a trawl, I counted and measured the fish, then recorded it in a data base. I also learned more about the life in the bay as I shadowed the classes that happen on shore. I shared the kids enthusiasm toward the marine life and was happy to help the kids learn to identify the different types of fish and invertebrates that they brought up. I am learning to identify the fish too, so I love to practice. I also learn about setup and cleanup, which is how to take out and put away the fish, and clean the buckets we put them in.

I also learned what the office work looks like. The first intern session I had I spent a lot of my time in the office cutting pamphlets and newsletters, and getting gifts ready to send to volunteers. That taught me more about how a nonprofit is run, and how much they are thankful for their volunteers. I also go the chance to see how the data that is collected in the bay is sorted and cleaned of unusable data.

I find that knowing these skills can be very useful. Right now I am working on a project for my school program that is allowing me to be at MSI as an intern. For the project, I am analyzing data from four years leading up to the El Nino, and comparing it to the last one. I realized that this can be important because the El Nino affects more than the weather.Learning the trends helps us understand more about these phenomenons.

Volunteer and internship opportunities are available year round.
Please visit our webpage at to find your next volunteer position! 


Marine Science Institute is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) not for profit organization
©2016. All Rights Reserved

Marine Camp 2016: Summer Camp Scholarship Fund

Boat GG bridge

Fun foggy day on the Bay with our middle school campers

The experience of summer camp offers profound positive effects that last for years. It is a special type of community where kids come together to have fun and develop a level of independence resulting from exploring adventures away from home. They make new friends, learn away from the classroom and keep their minds and bodies active while being engrossed in outside activities. At the Marine Science Institute’s Marine Camp, campers are engaged and challenged to explore the natural world and consider their connection to it.

Throughout the year MSI provides marine science education to inspire students and the public to explore the largest Pacific estuary in North and South America, as well as our nearby Pacific coast. We are dedicated to providing funding for these school programs year-round, and we attest to the importance of continuing access to these opportunities in the summer. Every child deserves an opportunity to go to summer camp and we recognize that some families might require a little help.

Our Marine Camp Scholarship Fund offers support for children from families who would otherwise not be able to afford camp. Every child deserves an opportunity to go to camp and we recognize that some families might require a little help. The Marine Camp Scholarship Fund is supported entirely by the charitable donations of our community. Please consider donating to our Marine Camp Scholarship Fund to invest in the future of young marine scientists. Thank you for your consideration.

blue DONATE fish

Marine Science Institute is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) not for profit organization
©2016. All Rights Reserved.

Creature Feature: Great White Shark

Common Facts:

Scientific name – Carcharodon carcharias

Diet – carnivore

Size – 15-20 feet

Weight – 5,000+ pounds

Protection Status – Endangered

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name, Great White Shark? Jaws, shark attack, predator, etc. While the Great White IS a top predator and carnivore, that deserves respect and space, Great Whites are not as scary as society has portrayed them to be. They are not predators of man.

Great White Sharks are the largest predatory fish in the world. And they definitely have an intimidating look to them. They can reach up to 20 feet in length (sometimes even more!) and over 5,000 pounds. Great Whites have gray upper bodies that help them blend in with the ocean floor, but they get their name from their white bellies. “They have a conical snout, pitch black eyes, a heavy, torpedo-shaped body, and a crescent-shaped, nearly equal-lobed tail fin that is supported on each side by a keel.”

Great Whites are built to hunt. “Their mouths are lined with up to 300 serrated triangular teeth arranged in several rows, and they have an exceptional sense of smell to detect prey.”  Free-diving with these guys is not encouraged, but there are those that have done so and lived to tell the tale. Great White Sharks prey mainly on sea lions, seals, small toothed whales and even elephant seals.

Most attacks on human are not to eat or kill. Great Whites are curious and most “attacks” on humans are just out of curiosity to see what we are/taste like and most incidents are not fatal. Not the most comforting thing to hear, but it’s good to know we are not a normal menu item for Great Whites.

While experts are unsure on the size of the Great White’s population, it is agreed that their numbers have been dropping because of overfishing. They are considered a endangered species, so if you catch one, let it go!

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Written by: Kari Shirley

Creature Feature: California Sea Lion

Common Facts:

Scientific name – Zalophus californianus

Average life span – 30 years or less

Diet – Fish, shellfish, squid

Size – 5.5 to 7.25 feet

If you’ve ever been to Pier 39, then you have seen (and heard) a California Sea Lion. These sea lions are fun, have playful personalities and are very smart. They are also a force to be reckoned with in the wild.

The California Sea Lion is a fast and sleek animal—faster than all other seals and sea lions! They can swim up to 25 miles per hour. They can also remain underwater for up to TEN minutes before they have to come up for air. This makes hunting much easier for them, since their primary food source are animals like fish, squid and shellfish.

California Sea Lions can be found all along the western coast of North America and are known to live near the Galapagos Islands as well. Males gather harems of females and huge groups of sea lions will gather on the shores to breed and give birth. California Sea Lions are very social creatures and can almost always be found in groups.

Thankfully, the population of California Sea Lions is growing. There are approximately 238,000 of them right now. So if you are ever in the Galapagos or near the western coast of North America, keep an eye out for these fun animals. Maybe even buy them some fish if it’s allowed where you are at. They love that!



Written by: Kari Shirley, intern

Marine Camp 2016: Splash Into Summer

MSI sand

Summer planning is in full swing! It is that time of year to begin thinking about your family’s summer activities. Summer camps of all kinds hold a myriad of opportunities for growth, making new friends, learning and fun. At the Marine Science Institute’s Marine Camp in Redwood City, CA, countless marine science themed activities await campers. Our knowledgeable staff are full-time educators and marine biologists with a genuine passion for sharing the wonders of nature with others. Whether your camper is learning about coastal California or the San Francisco Bay marine life, they will be amazed by the variety of creatures found in our own backyard! Marine Camp has several camps to choose from over the duration of the summer:

Plankton Pioneers is for our youngest campers (entering grades K-1st), and their week is full of exciting activities that introduce campers to different aspects of marine science. Each day at our site is themed with hands-on activities, animal touching and a fun craft that is related to the theme of the day. During one camp day, campers are true marine biologists aboard our Research Vessel and practice animal collecting from the bay!

Entering grades 2nd-5th have two options of Explorers camps: Wetland Explorers and Ocean Explorers. These camps are similar in structure but delve into two different habitats. They were designed so that our dedicated marine scientists could attend 2 weeks of camp without much repetition in curriculum. While Wetland Explorers focuses on the San Francisco Bay’s animals and habitats including marshes, sloughs and mudflats, the Ocean Explorers camp focuses on coastal California and the world ocean. Both camps explore how we are connected to those habitats and how we have a direct impact on their health. The Explorer camps both have 2 days at our site, 2 different field trips, and a day aboard our Research Vessel.

Our Naturalist program (entering 4th-5th grade) is for campers who have previously attended one of the Explorers camps and are ready to dive a little deeper into marine science and research methods. Campers will learn how to be naturalists and will focus on aspects within both the wetland and oceanic habitats. This fast-paced camp has 2 days at our site, 2 field trips and a trip aboard our Research Vessel to take students behind the scenes as marine biologists.

Underwater Investigators is for campers entering 6th-8th grades and involves much scientific investigation. Campers explore the varied fields within marine science including marine ecology, biodiversity, biological oceanography and more by using scientific data collection and analysis on land, boat and canoe. Our middle school age camp even has an overnight aboard the Research Vessel!

Our final camp option occurs just one week of the summer. The Project Discovery campers (entering 9th-12th grades) have an action packed week starting with animal sampling and data collection aboard the Research Vessel, followed by 4 days of camping along the coastline. This camp is geared towards high school students who want to study marine biology in the field.

Join us this summer for new field trips, activities, and friends! Week-long sessions are available June 13 – August 12. Registration begins Monday February 1 at 8 am.




(all camps run Mon-Fri – camp is closed for July 4th holiday, and that week will be prorated)

Plankton Pioneers $415 K-1 June 13, June 27, July 5, August 1, August 8
Wetland Explorers $500 2-5 June 13, June 20, June 27, July 11, July 18, July 25
Ocean Explorers $500 2-5 June 13, June 20, June 27, July 5, July 11, July 18, July 25, August 1, August 8
Naturalists $550 4-5

(for returning campers only)

July 5, July 18, August 1, August 8
Underwater Investigators $650 6-8 June 20, July 11, July 25
Project Discovery $1300 9-12 July 18


Summer Marine Science Camp is just around the corner. To learn more please visit our webpage at or contact Alex, the Marine Camp Manager at 650-364-2760 x19 or e-mail

Share this article, and the opportunity to register with your friends and family.


Marine Science Institute is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) not for profit organization
©2016. All Rights Reserved

Corporate Volunteering Takes the Helm, a BayLines Original Article

“I’d rather be fishing” is a common thought that goes through many a “nine-to-fiver’s” mind during the workweek. Well, we lucky folks at Emergence Capital got to do just that and more. 5

On a gloriously sunny October day, we picnicked outside with the staff on their oyster shell beach. Over hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies we learned of their strong interest in marine biology and the changes they have seen in the environment over the years. MSI’s Executive Director, Marilou Seiff, then expertly took us on a guided tour of the facilities, which showcased varied opportunities for school children to visit and learn onsite.  From there, we boarded the R/V Robert G. Brownlee and set off to work! MSI’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Tiff Murzi-Moyce, guided us through a physically competitive challenge of teams pulling up the fishing nets. We later experienced how to safely handle the fish.  We in turn gave back by cleaning the boats interior with a lot of elbow grease and laughter.

A huge “thank you” to everyone at MSI for sharing with us the valuable work they do every day. The employees at Emergence Capital definitely felt that our community goals were met and our anticipation of the day’s activities hit the mark.

-Adrian Mallinger, Executive Assistant at Emergence Capital in San Mateo.

Marine Science Institute would like to thank Adrian for submitting this article, coordinating this event, and spearheading her company’s donation process to replace the carpet on our research vessel. We also want to send a big THANK YOU to the Emergence Capital team for their hard work and dedication in making this cleanup day a huge success.

Volunteer and internship opportunities are available year round.
Please visit our webpage at to find your next volunteer position! 


This article was featured in our BayLines Winter Edition 2015-2016.

BayLines winter 2015 16 thumnb

Marine Science Institute is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) not for profit organization
©2015. All Rights Reserved

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