Marine Camp 2016: Underwater Investigator Sneak Peak

The Underwater Investigator camp for entering 6th-8th graders is a week-long program that is sure to inspire curiosity about the various fields within marine science. This summer campers will explore a different marine science field each day, including marine ecology and conservation, biodiversity, physical and biological oceanography, biomimicry, and will even learn what it takes to be an aquarist. They will practice scientific data collection on land by using real scientific equipment and they will also create their own quadrat, a research tool used to collect data to survey the biodiversity and health of a habitat. Campers will also spend a fun day canoeing to nearby Bair Island where they will investigate mud-dwelling invertebrates, examine the hydrology of the slough, and check out native and non-native plants that make this wetland such a unique habitat.

Their camp week culminates in a fun 2-day-long trip aboard our research vessel, and campers and staff even sleep aboard the boat! Campers will board the boat at 9am on the Thursday of their camp week and participate in various marine science studies as they venture to Sausalito for field trip activities. They will then have free time playing games and exploring the area while we barbecue dinner. Campers will then board the boat and watch a movie as we head to the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor for the overnight portion. On Friday campers will use scientific equipment to sample fish from the Bay, examine invertebrates from the mud, and study plankton underneath a microscope. This fun-filled week is packed with action!

Currently all of the Underwater Investigator sessions are full but campers can still be registered for the waitlists.


June 20-24

July 11-15

July 25-29



Marine Camp 2016: Naturalist Sneak Peak

Our Naturalist program is for entering 4th and 5th graders who have attended an Explorers camp. The Naturalist campers will dive deeper into life and processes of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific coast, learn research methods and discuss current issues in our world’s marine ecosystems. By learning how to be naturalists, these devoted marine scientists will become familiar with the skills and passion needed to be a life scientist during their fast-paced camp week.

Naturalists have an amazing and fun week ahead of them. Activities include:

  • Preserved sea star dissection to examine the water vascular system.
  • Creating a quadrat, a tool used to quantify the number of species and amount of new species within a designated area. This tool is essential for studying biodiversity and the health of an area. Campers will keep the quadrat they create!
  • Learning how to take fish data by identifying and taking measurements on the fish caught. This data goes into a database which other organizations have access to.
  • Examining Phyla and the features of different groups of animals which made scientists group them together.

… and much more!

All Naturalist camps (except for the shortened July 5th camp week) have:

  • 2 days at our site to study live animals from our aquarium and to engage in other science projects both indoors and outside
  • 2 field trips (reached by school bus) that feature different habitats (shortened July 5th week has 1 field trip)
  • 1 day aboard our ship that includes fishing, studying plankton, sampling mud, and learning about nautical navigation
  • 2 staff plus a volunteer for every 15 campers
  • Flexible curriculum that engages multiple learning styles

Naturalist campers will be visiting two field trip sites: the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center and the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. On both of these excursions campers will learn about the habitats, perform experiments to better understand the conditions of each location, and examine animal life.

There are 4 weeks of Naturalist camp available during the summer. If your entering 4th or 5th grade camper has attended an Explorer camp during a previous summer we encourage them to join this fast-paced program. Campers also have the option of being in an Explorer camp earlier in the summer and signing up for Naturalists later on to compound the information and dive deeper into marine science.

Join us for this awesome experience as campers dive into marine science and explore our local marine habitats. Camps run Monday through Friday, 8:30am-3pm with extended care available until 5:30pm.


July 5-8 *special overnight opportunity available

July 18-22

August 1-5

August 8-12

*We have a special option for the shortened 4th of July camp week of Naturalists: an optional overnight is available on the Thursday (July 7th) of camp for an additional $50. Campers will bring their overnight materials (clothes, sleeping bags, etc) and we will camp in the MSC. Food will be provided. Campers will watch a marine science themed video TBD, tow for night plankton and examine under a microscope, learn how scientists navigated using the stars, and more!


Marine Camp 2016: Ocean Explorers Sneak Peak

Entering 2nd-5th graders have two camp options: Wetland Explorers (discussed in a blog from 2 weeks ago found HERE) or Ocean Explorers, a camp of similar structure but focusing on a different habitat. Ocean Explorers camp is about “whole world’s ocean” and how we are connected to it. Campers will learn about various habitats such as the highly productive kelp forest, the harsh sandy beach, the ever-changing rocky shore and the dramatic open ocean which is strongly characterized by physical factors. Diverse populations of marine algae and animals are found along the rocky coast as well as in the open ocean. Wind, sunlight, tides and other physical factors create a complex environment, and the animals that are a part of northern California’s coastal community have incredible adaptations for survival.

Ocean Explorer camp, as well as MSI’s other camp options, is geared toward California’s science standards taught during the school year, and is fun and interactive. Hands-on lessons, animal touching, games, crafts, songs and more are themed toward the material to engage campers to embrace the communities along our nearby coastline.

All Ocean Explorer camps have:

  • 2 days at our site to study live animals from our aquarium and to engage in other science projects both indoors and outside
  • 2 field trips (reached by school bus) that feature different habitats
  • 1 day aboard our ship that includes fishing, studying plankton, sampling mud, and learning about nautical navigation
  • 2 staff plus a volunteer for every 15 campers
  • Flexible curriculum that engages multiple learning styles

Campers will be going on two field trips during their week at camp: Bean Hollow State Beach and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center. Bean Hollow (along the coast about 17 miles south of Half Moon Bay) offers ample opportunity for tide pool exploration and other activities. Campers will be able to find hermit crabs, black turban snails, sea anemones, purple shore crabs, sea stars with 5-6 arms, and more! This region also offers a coastal walk where campers can spot common native and non-native coastal plants, and even find a harbor seal haul-out where these marine mammals are commonly seen resting on the rocks.

The second field trip is a visit to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center in San Francisco. Located near Crissy Field, this facility has been transformed from old Coast Guard Buildings and is found along the beach. Campers will explore the region looking for crabs along the shoreline and taking part in crab population surveys. They will also drag a plankton net through the water and compare the coastal plankton to that found in the south Bay at our facility. Campers will also take part in a marine debris project with the Ocean Conservancy; they will contribute to a survey in which they will account for and tally the number of trash items found. The data will be entered into a database and submitted to the Ocean Conservancy, which will be compiled and become a part of a report for the city of San Francisco and contribute to the global project placed by the Ocean Conservancy.

Join us for a week full of fun, lessons, games, and interactive activities that are sure to excite your camper and inspire their love for the life within the California coastline and open ocean. Camps run Monday through Friday, 8:30am-3pm with extended care available until 5:30pm. Camp July 5th-8th still has spots available!


June 13-17 – FULL

June 20-24 – FULL

June 27-July 1 – FULL

July 5-8

July 11-15 – FULL

July 18-22 – FULL

July 25-29 – FULL

August 1-5 – FULL

August 8-12 – FULL


Creature Feature: Fairy Basslet

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Common Facts:

Scientific name: Gramma loreto

Diet: Small crustaceans, parasitic organisms found on larger fish, plankton

Size: Up to 3 inches

Range: Western Atlantic Ocean—Florida to northern South America and the Caribbean Sea

Despite their tiny size, Fairy basslets are hard to miss. With their bright purple and yellow bodies, it’s easy to spot these darting flashes of color. Fairy basslets are coral reef inhabitants and can generally be found under ledges or in caves.

“Fairy basslets are known to swim upside-down under ledges and along cave ceilings. They live in colonies and defend their territory from other species and even from other fairy basslets. Male fairy basslets guard and care for the eggs and the nest.”

Males find and establish nest sites before they participate in spawning activity. They find small crevices and holes in the reef and line them with algae, to cover the opening. Then, at dawn, female basslets will come to the nesting sites and deposit their eggs in a nest. After 10-11 days, the male’s guard duty is complete and the eggs hatch. “Then the larvae are believed to proceed to the planktonic stage until they are sufficiently heavy to resettle on the reef.”

Something interesting about Fairy basslets is that they are all born female, but can change sex to male. Males are more colorful than females and darken when they are ready to mate. Males also become a little bit larger than the females.

Fairy basslets are a beautiful and fun fish to observe! Take the time to admire them if you ever happen upon them.


Written by: Kari Shirley, intern

Creature Feature: Leafy Sea Dragon

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Common Facts:

Scientific name –Phycodurus eques

Size – Up to 16 inches long

Diet – Krill, mysids, sea lice

Range – South and Western Australia

If you were scuba diving along the rocky reefs of Southern and Western Australia, you might never spot one of the beautiful Leafy sea dragon! For a couple of different reasons. First, these fish are rare. And second, they are camouflaged to blend in perfectly with the seaweeds and seagrass around them!

Leafy sea dragons are related to sea horses, and have a similar body type—except they don’t use their tail to grip things like sea horses do. And they have some extra frills that seahorses do not. “Sea dragons are some of the most ornately camouflaged creatures on the planet. Adorned with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, they are perfectly outfitted to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst.”

Leafy sea dragons have small dorsal and pectoral fins that they use to awkwardly swim through the water. Although a lot of the time, they enjoy just letting the current carry them, like the seaweed they are mimicking.

Something interesting about Leafy sea dragons is that the males are the ones that do the child-bearing! The females deposit their eggs on a brood patch the males have on the underside of their tails. The eggs are fertilized in this process, and then the males carry them for 4-6 weeks until they hatch. Luckily for the parents, the work is then done. Baby sea dragons are independent from birth.

Due to their excellent camouflaging skills, Leafy sea dragons have very few predators, outside of humans. Humans love to catch them and keep them as pets because they are such beautiful creatures. Australia currently has a ban on hunting/fishing/disturbing Leafy sea dragons in the hopes that their numbers will increase.



Written by: Kari Shirley, intern


Creature Feature: Mimic Octopus

Common Facts:

Scientific name – Thaumoctopus mimicus

Diet – Small fish and crustaceans

Size – Up to 2 feet long, with 25 centimeter arms

Life span – Said to live for around 9 months

Initially, if you happened upon a Mimic octopus, you would think that it was just a normal, slightly small, octopus. But the Mimic octopus is not your typical octopus. These sea creatures have LOTS of tricks up their sleeve.

It is the behavior of the Mimic octopus that makes it stand out and gives it it’s name. “Mimicry is commonly used as a survival strategy in nature. However the mimic appears to be able to take on the appearance of not just 1 other species, but of several.” Not only that, but all of the other species that the Mimic imitates are venomous, making this a deliberate and evolved tactic of survival.

The Mimic octopus can make itself appear to be a Lion fish, sea snake and a sole/flatfish. It bends and shapes it’s body to look just like theirs. Below is a video showing the Mimic octopus in action.

The Mimic octopus also has a lot of the same physical characteristics of other octopus species have. They have the ability to change the color and texture of their skin to blend into their surroundings to protect themselves. They have “8 arms, a mantle containing 3 hearts and other internal organs, and a siphon used for jet propulsion. The arms have 2 rows of suckers, each sucker having a touch sensor and a chemoreceptor, allowing the mimic effectively to feel and taste its food before it eats it. It has a large brain but lacks the sense of hearing.”



Written by: Kari Shirley, intern

Creature Feature: Beluga Whale

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Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas

Size – 13 to 20 feet, 2000 to 3000 pounds

Life span – 35 to 50 years

Diet – Fish, crustaceans, and worms


Beluga whales are born to stand out—with their unusual white color, they are easy to spot and recognize. They aren’t always this color though. Baby Belugas are born gray or brown, and then fade to white as they mature sexually.

Compared to most whales, Belugas are small, ranging from 13-20 feet in length. They are also unique because they lack a dorsal fin, something most fish and marine mammals have. There are several other things that make Belugas special. They have a more complex way of communicating with one another, utilizing clicks, whistles and clangs, along with other sounds that they sometimes mimic.

Beluga whales can be found in the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean, and in subarctic waters as well. Belugas almost always live and travel in small groups call Pods. They migrate south when the ocean begins to freeze over and have to move quickly, otherwise they could be trapped under the ice and suffocate—or become an easy target for predators, like Polar Bears.

You might wonder why Beluga whales live in such a frigid environment. They have a thick layer of blubber (which can be as thick as 5 inches!) to help keep them insulated and warm. They also have a hard dorsal ridge along their back and a tough forehead, which helps them to swim through the icy sea water.

Beluga whales are truly amazing and beautiful creatures. Should you ever be near arctic waters, take some time and see if you can spot these fantastic white whales! They are worth the wait.


Written by: Kari Shirley, intern

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

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


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.

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