Blubber: Teaching About Sea Mammals

Want to really get your elementary kids interested in learning about sea mammals such as whales and walruses?  Then teach about blubber! If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s nothing so disgusting as it sounds.  Blubber is the part of the sea mammals that keeps them warm. In fact, before you start this experiment, you should make sure that the kids understand this salient point. At the end of this, students should know that blubber is the fat layer beneath many sea animals’ skin, and that this layer is an insulator that helps sea mammals to stay warm.

To perform this interactive exercise, you’ll need some rubber gloves, a large bowl, ice, water, an outdoor thermometer and some solid vegetable shortening. Before you begin, explain to the kids that whales, dolphins, seals and porpoises are mammals, not fish. Among other things, this means that they are warm blooded. Explain that a warm-blooded sea creature’s body temperature stays constant and doesn’t adjust to the surrounding temperature.  And make sure they know that in order to maintain a constant temperature, these sea mammals need a way to stay warm when the area around them gets cold.

Now explain that the way these animals stay warm is through an extra layer of “insulation” beneath their outer skin.  Tell them that the activity they’re about to do will show how this blubber keeps the animal warm.  Divide the students into several groups.  Give each group a large bowl filled with water and plenty of ice, and a rubber glove beside it. Coat each glove with a layer of vegetable oil and have the children repeat the action, putting on the glove and submerging their hand. Ask them to write down their responses.

Have each student put on the glove and submerge their hand in the ice water and tell if they think the water is warm, cool, fairly cold, or very cold.   Now, again, ask them to write down how cold they felt the water was.  Almost everyone will report that their hands are much warmer with the vegetable oil.  Explain to the students that the vegetable oil protects the hand from the cold water in exactly the same way that the blubber protects the whale or dolphin from the icy water around them.

Your students will have a lot of fun with this. More importantly, they will have a greater appreciation for how Mother Nature has protected some important sea animals.

Here is our 52-Card Deck on Mammals that includes 4 fun Interactive Learning Games:

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