December 20, 2021 • Program Updates
After more than 50 years of leading whale watching tours from San Francisco, we know that such first-hand ocean experiences offer one of the most powerful ways to engage people in ocean conservation. Yet we also recognize that such experiences are not available to everyone. Due to financial and cultural barriers, only a small percentage of the Bay Area’s 7+ million residents have ever enjoyed a first-hand experience at sea with the San Francisco Bay’s famous whales, seabirds, and more.
In an effort to address this gap, broaden access to ocean experiences, and diversify the ocean conservation movement, we launched our Critter Scholars Program in 2017. Through the program, we aim to provide free-of-charge, educational ocean experiences for underserved student groups in the Bay Area. The program actively combines culturally-relevant instructional practices with hands-on experiential learning to connect students with the ocean and its wildlife, address relevant environmental concerns, and forge a path to build the next generation of ocean conservationists.
After putting our sponsored cruises on hold in 2020 and early 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were thrilled to be able to lead two Critter Scholars Program cruises in October and November 2021. These trips were made possible through a generous grant from SC Johnson, which will support seven such cruises in 2021 and 2022.
Our most recent Critter Scholars Program cruise was run on November 4, 2021 for a group of 37 students and educators from Balboa High School of San Francisco. The group arrived at the harbor wearing custom Balboa High t-shirts with “United We Sail” emblazoned on the front. They looked very well prepared for a 3-hour cruise on San Francisco Bay aboard the 136-foot sailing tall ship, the Matthew Turner.
On November 4, 2021 we sponsored a group of 37 students and educators from Balboa High School of San Francisco for a hands-on educational cruise on the Bay. © Chris Biertuempfel
As the group boarded the ship, we introduced the crews of both Oceanic Society and Call of the Sea, the non-profit that owns and operates the Matthew Turner. Each section of the ship had a subset of crew members and different activities planned for the cruise.
The front of the ship was dedicated to recording wildlife. Rebekah Lane, Oceanic Society naturalist and Marine Mammal Center field researcher, showed students the procedure used for official marine mammal counts. Students then recorded the number and location of harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises that were seen throughout the day.
Students recorded the number and location of harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises that were seen throughout the day. © Chris Biertuempfel
The middle of the boat was focused on plankton sampling and analysis. Using a manta trawl net system, students collected plankton samples and were able to view them using a microscope hooked up to a computer monitor.
Using a manta trawl net system, students collected plankton samples and were able to view them under a microscope. © Chris Biertuempfel
The back of the boat was set up as a space where students could learn about sailing and the conservation history of San Francisco Bay. Crew members told students about various eras of overfishing and other abuses of the Bay, but also about conservation success stories over time, like the return of harbor porpoises to the Bay. Students were also able to take turns steering the ship at the great wooden helm!
Students on the cruise were able to take turns steering the ship at the great wooden helm. © Chris Biertuempfel
We had a strong breeze throughout the day and were able to navigate under sail power the entire trip. Our route was out under the Golden Gate Bridge as far out as Point Bonita Lighthouse. We then sailed back into the bay and around the back of Alcatraz Island before returning to port.
We sailed out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Bonita Lighthouse and around Alcatraz Island within the Bay. © Chris Biertuempfel
On our way back we tallied up the total number of student-observed marine mammals. There were nearly 30 seals, sea lions, and harbor porpoises in all! Once we had all safely disembarked, we gathered on the dock for a group photo and the cruise participants got back on the bus.
We’re thrilled to have led two sponsored cruises in 2021, with five more planned for 2022, thanks to a grant from SC Johnson. © Chris Biertuempfel
This was our second Critter Scholars Program cruise of 2021. On our first cruise in October, we hosted a group of 16 students and educators from San Francisco’s Downtown High School. Five additional cruises are scheduled for Spring 2022, and we’re looking forward to growing this program in 2022 and beyond!
Special thanks to SC Johnson for their support to this program in 2021-2022!