Whale of a Time

Explore the underwater world of whales with KELP!

Roaming throughout all the world’s oceans, communicating with complex, mysterious sounds, these intelligent, magnificent creatures are a vital part of our ocean ecosystem. Whales maintain a stable food chain, play a key role in nutrient cycling and are important to scientific discovery and our economy. Unfortunately, whales are threatened by climate change, whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, toxic contamination and habitat degradation.

Humpback whale

Like humans, whales are warm-blooded mammals who breathe air and nurse their young (some even have hair)! Help kids learn more about these incredible creatures and their lives in the ocean by using our Kids Environmental Lesson Plans (KELP). With simple, household materials and minimal preparation, KELP modules are easy to teach, fun and educational. They’re even free and downloadable from our website, just register at: sailorsforthesea.org/programs/kelp.

Answer your kids’ intriguing questions about how whales live in the ocean (and even learn some fun facts yourself) with our KELP modules:

How do whales feed and what do they eat?

Whales are divided into two major groups based on how they feed: toothed and baleen whales. Toothed whales (not surprisingly) have teeth and feed on fish, squid and other marine mammals. They use echolocation to navigate and hunt their prey. Baleen whales have a comb-like fringe, called a baleen, on their upper jaw. Baleen is made out of the same substance found in human fingernails and hair, and allows the whale to trap small marine animals (plankton, crustaceans and small fish) while allowing water to pass through, back into the ocean.

A right whale skim feeding

The skull shape, jaw size, and type of baleen plates determine the type of prey a baleen whale catches and how it feeds. Humpback whales use the gulp feeding method with their baleen acting like a fishing net, while gray whales feed on small marine creatures in the ocean’s muddy bottoms. The KELP activity, Whale Feeding uses a comb, water, plastic bin and dried rosemary or parsley to investigate right whales’ feeding behavior, called skim feeding. Coupled with Whale Jenga Food Web Game, kids will learn how small changes in the base of the food web (small marine organisms baleen whales consume) can have dramatic impacts on these whales.

What does the world look like to a whale?

Whales eyes are located on the sides of their heads, called monocular vision, whereas humans have two eyes facing forward. With paper towel tubes, small mirrors, scissors and tape, students can view their surroundings from the perspective of a whale in Whale of a View. Using both eyes separately increases the field of view, but limits depth perception, which can make it difficult finding things around you.

Why do whales have blubber?

Blubber is a thick layer of fat just beneath the skin of all marine mammals. Being warm-blooded, whales need blubber to help them survive and thrive in icy, cold waters. Whales use blubber not only for insulation, but also for energy, protection and buoyance. Try Whale Blubber, a fun activity where students will make a “blubber glove” to mimic the importance of blubber insulation to whales living in frigid waters.

Whale Blubber KELP activity

Pictured above, Carrie West is educating her students about blubber with KELP. Carrie teaches fifth grade at Knox County Schools in Tennessee. Even though they’re landlocked, she knows how important the ocean is to every aspect of our lives. Her classroom is even filled with ocean-themed images! Carrie tries to squeeze ocean knowledge into every subject and teaches her kids to be ocean advocates every day.

Whale Blubber KELP activity

She loves using our KELP activities because they help connect her students’ lives to the sea.