Sanctuary Explorations

The Sanctuary Explorations Series provides monthly opportunities for you to connect with, and experience, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Explorations are hosted in partnership with Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.


Check back soon for our next Sanctuary Exploration!

Stay informed on upcoming Explorations.

Past Explorations

Farallon Islands Scenic. Photo credit: Peter Winch

Virtual Cruise to the Farallon Islands

Get Into Your Sanctuary with Greater Farallones naturalists for an adventure into San Francisco’s ocean wilderness. Traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge, we will journey 27 miles west to the mysterious Farallon Islands and beyond! While underway we will search for humpback and blue whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, sharks, seabirds including tufted puffins and common murres, and other ocean wildlife! Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects the wildlife, habitats, and cultural resources of one of the world’s most diverse and bountiful marine environments, an area of 3,295 square miles off the north-central California coast. Join our virtual expedition followed by live Q&A with sanctuary staff.

Grey whale tail. Photo: NOAA

Gray Whale Watching

Witness the mighty gray whale migration on this half-day cruise. Join our sanctuary naturalists as we venture into the migration path of the gray whales as they head through our national marine sanctuaries, traveling from Arctic feeding grounds to Baja California breeding grounds. Learn about their natural history, their recovery from near extinction, and the survival challenges posed by their roughly 12,000 mile round-trip journey in a changing ocean environment. Discover the natural history and adaptations of the seabirds, porpoises, seals, and sea lions we encounter.

Elephant seal with pup. Photo: Robert Schwemmer NOAA

Elephant Seal Walk

Join Año Nuevo Reserve Director, Patrick Robinson, and sanctuary naturalists for an exclusive, in-depth experience of Año Nuevo State Park’s famous elephant seal colony. We’ll start with a glimpse into the latest discoveries about the elephant seals in our sanctuaries. Then we’ll embark on a walk to observe them firsthand. Año Nuevo is one of the world’s largest mainland breeding colonies of northern elephant seals! Every year up to 10,000 elephant seals visit to breed, give birth, and molt. Watch males battle for prime beach real estate and the right to mate, while females birth and suckle their newborn pups. Learn about the fascinating natural history, behavior and ecology of northern elephant seals while observing them during this fun and dynamic walk!

Bio kayak explorations. Photo: Sara Heintzelman

Bioluminescence Kayak Trip

Greater Farallones sanctuary naturalists and Pt. Reyes Outdoors lead a kayak adventure to experience the eerie phenomenon of bioluminescence in the sheltered waters of Tomales Bay. At twilight we’ll launch our kayaks and paddle to a quiet beach to enjoy a dessert picnic and warm beverages. Then, setting out again in the deepening dark, we’ll watch as tiny plankton, called dinoflagellates, create their bioluminescent magic. Ripples from our paddles and wakes, from darting fish, and even seals will ignite flashes of cool green fire against the dark waters.

Farallon islands aerial

Farallon Islands & Whale Watching Cruise

Get into your sanctuary with Greater Farallones naturalists and the Oceanic Society for a day-long adventure into the waters of the sanctuary. Traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge we will journey 27 miles offshore to the intriguing Farallon Islands and, seas permitting, beyond! While underway we will search for humpback and blue whales, seabirds such as the Tufted Puffin and Common Murre, seals, sea lions, porpoises, jellies and other ocean wildlife!

Tidepool sanctuary exploration. Photo: Sara Heintzelman

Tidepool Adventure

Join Greater Farallones sanctuary naturalists for a tidepool adventure in Half Moon Bay. Explore the amazing intertidal habitat at the dynamic edge of the sea. Learn how the animals and algae survive under ever-changing conditions. Search for chitons, anemones, sea stars, sea urchins, nudibranchs and other creatures that call this biodiversity hotspot “home.” Learn important tidepool etiquette and helpful techniques. Our adventure will conclude with hot chocolate and cookies.

Kayakers on the water. Photo: Sara Heintzelman.

Kayak, Ecology, & Plankton Adventure

Join Greater Farallones sanctuary naturalists and WaterTreks for a morning kayak on the Russian River Estuary along the spectacular Redwood Coast. Explore the wildlife, ecology, and island and coastal beaches where the river meets the sea. We’ll collect plankton samples for Sonoma Coast Watch to monitor for harmful algal blooms. Our paddle concludes with a bit of “dockside science,” examining our samples with microscopes to reveal this fascinating, multi-form marine life.

Brandt's Cormorant. Photo: Abe Borker

Alcatraz: Island of Seabirds

Alcatraz Island, infamous for its federal prison, supports the only nesting colonies of Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants inside San Francisco Bay. Join an Alcatraz bird docent and sanctuary staff for a thought-provoking walk through the seabird rookeries to learn about their ecology and current conservation status. We’ll discuss the significance of Pigeon Guillemots, Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black Oystercatchers, and many more. We’ll learn about the impacts of human disturbance and the efforts to protect these birds. Easy/moderate walk. Adults must accompany minors.

2 long-billed dowitchers. Photo: Steve Lonhart

Bird Walk & Kent Island Restoration Day

Join the Greater Farallones Association, Marin County Parks, and renowned ornithologist and marine biologist Peter Pyle for a day of restoration and exploration on Bolinas Lagoon’s Kent Island. After an early birding walk, we’ll remove invasive plants that interfere with normal tidal flow. As we work, we will learn about dynamic dune ecology, native plants and animals, and seasonal changes. We are already seeing the return of natives like pink sand verbena. Help keep our momentum going!

Whale wildflower walk group in action. Photo: Sara Heintzelman

Whale & Wildflower Walk

Join Greater Farallones sanctuary naturalists and a California State Park Environmental Scientist for a 4 mile coastal wildflower and whale walk! We will explore Salt Point State Park while learning about bluff, coastal prairie, and near shore coastal ecology. Discover how State Parks are protecting and restoring these unique habitats. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy while we keep a lookout for migrating gray whales traveling north with their calves.