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Blubber - Survival Adaptations and Behaviors

Course, Subject

Biology/Living Environment, Science (NYS P-12)

Grade Levels

Elementary, 2nd Grade


After discussing the activity, students write a brief summary in their journals/notebooks/lab books describing the importance of blubber in the survival of penguins and other marine animals.


5 - 10 minutes to watch and discuss video, 30 - 45 minutes to conduct the activity

Essential Question

How do adaptations help animals (organisms) survive in their habitat?


The specific question for this activity is: How does blubber help Antarctic animals survive in their environment?

Materials: SciShow Kids video - How do Whales, Penguins and Polar Bears Keep Warm?

(to see a video describing the experiemnt, click below)

Blubber Experiement

Each work team of 2-4 students will need:

  • 4 sandwich-size storage bags (self-sealing preferred)
  • 2-3 cups of blubber (solid shortening such as Crisco)
  • Bucket/container of ice water
  • record sheet
  • watch/clock with second hand
  • pencil/ pen
  • masking tape
  • paper towels


  1. As a class, watch the SciShow Kids video - How do Whales, Penguins and Polar Bears Keep Warm?
  2. Discuss some of the physical characteristics of polar animals, such as their ability to survive in very cold water.
  3. As a class, discuss the nature of the activity and record predictions about expected outcomes (the length of time one could hold hand in ice water, how it might feel, etc.).
  4. Divide class into groups of 2-4 students.
  5. Have students cover one hand with one plastic storage bag.
  6. Put a generous amount of solid shortening into another bag.
  7. Have the student put the bag-covered hand into the bag with the shortening. Knead the shortening to make sure the hand is completely surrounded by shortening.
  8. Wrap masking tape around the portion of the bag covering the wrist to seal the bag.
  9. Cover the other hand with 2 bags without shortening (control).
  10. Place the hands simultaneously into a bucket of ice water. Other team members time and record how long each hand remains under water until it feels cold.
  11. Have partners switch roles and repeat the investigation.
  12. In groups and then as a class, discuss the results and observations. Compare with predictions made prior to the activity.


  1. Fill a sandwich-size plastic bag with shortening and two sandwich-size bags with ice.
  2. Student places one bag of ice on partner’s hand.
  3. Place the bag of shortening (blubber) on the partner’s other hand. Place the second bag of ice on top of the bag of shortening.
  4. Time and record how long before each hand feels cold.
  5. Have partners switch roles and repeat the investigation.
  6. Students record their observations in their journal/record sheet and discuss the role of blubber in penguin survival.


Place one sealed bag of ice and one sealed bag of blubber in the container of water. Drop equal weights gently on each bag.

How much weight can each bag hold before it sinks to the bottom? Why is the blubber important to the survival of the animal?

(Thanks to Gulf of Maine Aquarium for the basis of this activity.)


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