Welcome to Channel Islands Marine Floating Lab

Channel Islands Marine Floating Lab (CIMFL) offers an innovative approach designed to heighten one’s awareness and understanding of the marine environment. This 3 1/2 hour expedition onboard the R/V Pacific Islander allows participants to analyze biological, chemical and physical properties of the ocean, all while never leaving the protected waters of the Channel Islands Harbor.

Upon boarding CIMFL’s R/V Pacific Islander, one is instantly transformed from passive observer to active participant. Holding live sea stars, spiny sea urchins, bat rays and octopus are just a few of the common opportunities you will have to choose from.

Touch the gooey bottom and identify all that lives within when you haul up a sample from the depths. Launch and haul in the otter trawl, a specially designed collection device that allows participants the opportunity to see and touch all that lives below. Once collected, specimens are kept alive in touch tanks and aquariums for further activities.

Utilizing a station rotation process, CIMFL staff set up four separate activity stations. Participants, once divided into smaller working groups, rotate through each station taking part in our unique hands-on approach to learning.

In the onboard lab, participants will be able to identify live plankton and other microscopic organisms as they are easily brought into view with our state of the art equipment.


The Full Lab Program is Channel Islands Marine Floating Labs’ signature program. It is approximately 3.5 hours in duration and offers the most hands on, instructive and tactile approach to introduce your students to the marine environment.

Once onboard, your students actively take part in the specimen collection effort by utilizing a wide range of equipment: otter trawl, biological dredge, plankton tow as well as an assortment of tools to assess water turbidity, temperature and depth.

After the collection session, which all students participate in, work stations are set up around the boat. Students are divided into 4 groups that rotate to each station while conducting various marine science activities. They will spend approximately 15–20 minutes at each station. Workbooks, as well as staff are provided for each group to guide them through each of these “hands on” activities.

These work stations include:

1. Physical Oceanography: Here the basic parameters of seawater are examined. The students will measure the seawater’s temperature with a thermometer, turbidity with a secchi disk, depth with a sounding lead, plus other climatic conditions.

2. Bottom Sediment Station: Students employ the use of a bottom grabber, retrieving a sample of the mud from the bottom. They will then extract, identify and examine benthic organisms/animals that dwell upon the bottom.

3. Touch Tank: Here students are able to identify, record and “handle” all the specimens live that have been collected earlier during their collection effort utilizing the otter trawl.

4. Plankton Lab: Here students will marvel at the most basic forms of life in the food web as they explore and identify a sample of local “live plankton” under a projection microscope. Emphasis is placed on stewardship and watershed responsibility.

2020 Pricing: $850.00  maximum 40 students. 


This program was designed to accommodate a higher number of students. The Combination Program still requires a minimum of 4 hours, however it can accommodate up to 2 classes concurrently.

One class will take a guided tour of the Ventura County Maritime Museum, discovering maritime history through a series of static displays and activities, while the other class is taking part in our At Sea Program onboard our Floating Lab vessel. Each program is approximately 2 hours in duration. This Combo Floating Lab program is identical to the Full Lab program, except we omit the collection process, and the boat arrives at the dock complete with specimens onboard, ready to start your learning experience.

2020 Pricing: $800 per session plus $5 per participate to Ventura County Maritime Museum (optional), maximum 40 students per session

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

The whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to an order of marine mammals called “Cetaceans”.

They spend their entire lives in the water, but retain many mammalian characteristics.

These characteristics include:

1. Being warm bodied air breathers
2. Giving birth to live young
3. Producing milk to nurse the young
4. Having a least a few hairs on the body. (In most species, the hair either falls off before birth or shortly after).

Cetaceans are usually divided into two major groups, or suborders.

A. “Mysticeti” are the whales with baleen plates
B. “Odontoceti” are the toothed whales including dolphin

Seals and Sea Lions

The seals, sea lions, fur seals and walrus are all members of a group of marine mammals called “Pinnipeds”. The word “pinniped” means “feather foot”, “wing foot” or “web foot”, and refers to the webbed flipper seals and sea lions use for locomotion. Flippers have bones, muscle and cartilage and are quite mobile, unlike fins, which are without muscle or bones and are generally immobile. Like whales and dolphins, pinnipeds are voluntary breathers. This means that they must actively think about every breath they take. At rest the nostrils are pinched shut, and open only when the animal exhales and inhales.

Pinnipeds have long, sensitive whiskers called “vibrissae”, which they use to locate and identify objects, food and each other. The vibrissae are so sensitive that they can feel the movements of fish in the water. Pinnipeds feed on a wide variety of fish and invertebrates including, sardine, anchovy, herring, flatfish, squid and octopus.

Encounters between pinnipeds and man have historically ended rather badly for the pinnipeds. Fisherman view them as competitors for fish, and sea lions and seals often become tangled in, or damage fishing nets and gear. Fur seals have been heavily hunted for their thick, warm fur.

Ask about our Whale Watching Tours as well

We also have a wide variety of Sport Fishing and Whale Watching Tours available as well