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Lesson Plan

Underwater Animals by Discovery Education


Science (NYS P-12)

Grade Levels

Elementary, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade


One class period


Students will understand the following:

  1. Blubber is a layer of fat beneath the skin of many sea animals.
  2. Blubber acts as an insulator, helping sea mammals to keep warm in cold waters.


The following materials will be required for each group:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Large bowl
  • Water
  • Ice
  • Solid vegetable shortening
  • Outdoor thermometer (optional)


  1. Before beginning this activity, students should have the following background information:

Whales, seals, dolphins, and porpoises are not fish, but mammals, which means they are warm blooded.
Warm-blooded ocean animals' body temperatures remain constant; their body temperatures do not adjust to changes in the surrounding temperature.
Warm-blooded ocean animals, in order to maintain a constant body temperature, need a way to keep warm when the surrounding temperature is cold.

  1. Ask students how they think sea mammals—such as whales, seals, dolphins, and porpoises—stay warm in cold water.
  2. Make sure students know what blubber is—a thick layer of fat beneath the skin of sea mammals. Tell them that they are going to do an experiment to find out how blubber helps sea mammals stay warm.
  3. Divide the class into groups, giving each group a large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes and a rubber glove.
  4. Direct students to take turns putting on the rubber glove and submerging the gloved hand in the ice water for 30 seconds. Have each student tell the group how his or her hand feels after being submerged. (If you wish, have the student insert a thermometer into the glove and wait one minute until the temperature registers.)
  5. Tell students to record each student's reaction (and optional thermometer reading) on a chart they devise themselves. The chart should have columns for group members' names and for members' reactions (and an optional column for thermometer readings) without "blubber." The chart should also have a column for reactions (and an optional column for thermometer readings) with "blubber."
  6. Next, have students take turns repeating the procedure, with each group member thickly coating his or her hand with solid vegetable shortening before putting on the glove. Have each student tell the group how his or her hand feels this time. (If using a thermometer to measure the temperature, students should wait until the thermometer registers room temperature again before proceeding with this step.) Group members should add data from this step to their chart.
  7. Discuss results with the class. Why did students' hands feel warmer when coated with solid vegetable shortening than when uncoated? What does this experiment tell them about the function of blubber in sea mammals?
  8. Have students wash their hands with soap and water after the experiment.


Younger students will need help coating their hands with the shortening and with cleaning up. If students will record data on charts, you might prepare the charts for the students in advance. Rather than have students work on their own, you might have one or more volunteers perform the experiment, with your help, as a demonstration for the class.

Discussion Questions

  1. Besides blubber, what are some other physical characteristics that help keep animals keep warm in cold climates?
  2. Think of some animals that live in cold climates and some that live in hot climates. Compare and contrast their physical characteristics.
  3. Humans have a layer of fat under the skin, but not enough to keep us warm. How do humans keep warm in cold weather?
  4. Underwater mammals differ in many ways from mammals that live on land. In what ways are land mammals and underwater mammals similar? What common characteristics qualify both groups of animals to be called mammals?


You can evaluate groups on their charts using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: well designed; clear and carefully prepared; each group member's name and reaction (and thermometer reading) listed
Two points: adequately designed; legible and satisfactorily prepared; some data missing
One point: inadequately designed; carelessly prepared; significant data missing
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining several acceptable ways the chart could be designed.


Eight Things about Sharks
Invite students to brainstorm ideas and questions about sharks. Then encourage them to do research to answer any questions they have. Have each student or group of students create a storyboard for a television documentary about sharks. Each student or group should fold a large sheet of paper into eight parts and illustrate or write eight of the important ideas about sharks they would want to show. Students should write captions for all drawings.

Suggested Readings

Deep-Sea Vents: Living Worlds Without Sun
John F. Waters, Cobblehill Books, 1994.

Our Oceans: Experiments and Activities in Marine Science
Paul Fleisher, Millbrook Press, 1995.

Safari Beneath the Sea: The Wonder World of the North Pacific Coast
Diane Swanson, Sierra Club Books for Children, 1994.

Killer Whale
Caroline Arnold, Morrow Junior Books, 1994.

Orca Song
Michael C. Armour, Soundprints, 1994.

Free Willy! Free Keiko!
Earth Island Institute, Earth Island Journal, Spring 1995.

All About Whales
Deborah Kovacs, Third Story Books, 1994.

Baby Whales Drink Milk
Barbara Juster Esbensen, HarperCollins Childrens Books, 1994.

The Birth of Humpback Whale
Robert Matero, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Calls of the Wild
Michelle Alten, Animals, November 1994.

Whale Chatter: Making Sense of Marine Mammals' Clicks and Calls
Tina Adler, Science News, May 25, 1996.

Sharks: Voracious Hunters of the Sea
Isidro Sanchez, Gareth Stevens Publishers, 1996.

Shark Facts
Lynn M. Stone, Rourke Corporation, 1996.

Erik D. Stoops, Sterling Publishing Co., 1994.

The Shark Callers
Eric Campbell, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994.


Access this resource at:

Underwater Animals


Oregon Coast Aquarium
This is the home page of the aquarium where Keiko is living now.

International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP)
This page is where the Earth Island Institute shares information about its efforts to protect marine mammals.

Whale Songs
This site is an educational center about whales and people.



Definition: To become ready for a new situation by changing.

Context: Life on this stuff is tough and only tough creatures able to change, or adapt, can survive.


Definition: Animals which are warm-blooded, breath air, and nurse their young.

Context: Though they spend their whole lives in water, whales are not fish. They are mammals, like us.


Definition: An action of whales that involves leaping into the air and crashing back onto the water's surface.

Context: Breeching—leaping into the air and crashing back onto the water's surface—is one of their most common behaviors.


Definition: An animal that hunts one or more other animals for its food.

Context: Sharks are very good predators because of their excellent eyesight. Their eyes are sensitive to light and can see the shadows of other fish very easily.


Definition: A class of animals with common physical features.

Context: There are more than 350 different species of sharks, such as the Galapagos shark, the Blue shark, and the very dangerous Tiger shark.


Content Provider

Discovery Education

Discovery Education offers a breadth and depth of digital media content that is immersive, engaging and brings the world into the classroom to give every student a chance to experience fascinating people, places, and events. All content is aligned to state standards, can be aligned to custom curriculum, and supports classroom instruction regardless of the technology platform.

Whether looking for a digital media library service, an implementation to help you transition your classroom to a 21st century environment or to move completely to replace textbooks with digital resources, Discovery Education offers a continuum of solutions to meet your district's specific needs. In addition, we offer real-time assessment services and a variety of professional development to ensure effective implementation in the classroom. You know your needs. We know our services. Together we can create an effective solution.

And, add the vast number of additional classroom instruction opportunities available such as virtual experiences, compelling Discovery talent, free lesson plans and materials, and a variety of contests and challenges and with Discovery Education teachers are truly able to give students opportunities to soar beyond the traditional textbook for endless possibilities.

Credits: Summer Productions, Inc.

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