1. Build background.
Go to the provided National Geographic Animals website. Show students the photos of humpback whales and point out their range on the map. Discuss the science of blubber—how and why it helps animals like whales stay warm in icy conditions and how it helps animals remain buoyant.

2. Watch the video.
Watch the Crittercam video of humpback whales breathing, herding, and feeding.

3. Divide students into small groups and distribute the worksheet.
Divide students into small groups of three and give each group a copy of the worksheet Whales: Benefits of Blubber. Have students take turns as researcher, timer, and recorder.

4. Have students prepare for an experiment.
Have the student whose role is researcher put on a pair of tight-fitting latex gloves and, on top of those, a pair of large rubber dishwashing gloves. One dishwashing glove should be empty. Have students fill the other with vegetable shortening.

5. Have students conduct the experiment.
Have students use a thermometer to measure the temperature in a bucket of ice cold water. The researcher should plunge both hands into the bucket. The timer—the student with a stopwatch—should time how long the researcher leaves each hand in the water before removing it due to cold. The student whose role is recorder records the time. Ask: Which hand gets colder first? How much sooner?

6. Have students calculate averages.
Have students take turns putting their hands in the water, and then calculate the average times in ice water for the "blubber-protected" and the unprotected hand. Discuss the results as a class.

Extending the Learning

Have students experiment with other variables, such as water of different temperatures, varying amounts of vegetable shortening, or other kinds of insulating materials. Make sure they test only one variable at a time.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Biology
  • Mathematics

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • explain how and why blubber helps animals stay warm and buoyant
  • collect data during an experiment to test the relationship between temperature and body heat insulation
  • analyze collected data

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

  • Critical Thinking Skills
    • Analyzing
    • Understanding

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics

National Science Education Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Bucket
  • Ice water
  • Latex gloves
  • Pencils
  • Rubber dishwashing gloves
  • Stopwatch
  • Thermometers
  • Vegetable shortening

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
  • Plug-Ins: Flash

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Small-group instruction

Background Information

Most whales have a thick layer of blubber—up to one foot thick—that helps keep their bodies at 100–102° Fahrenheit. Blubber helps whales maintain this temperature even in cold ocean water and at depths of up to 1,000 meters (approximately 3,280 feet). Blubber also helps whales remain buoyant, because it is lighter than water.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None



thick layer of fat under the skin of marine mammals.


capable of floating.


piece of data that can change.