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Whales and Our World



Foster the study of threatened or endangered species in a non-laboratory setting.


The activities in this unit will provide students with a basic understanding of the problems surrounding the exploitation of the environment, the causes and consequences of extinction, the remedial measures now underway to protect endangered species and the need for more corrective legislation and action. This unit will also help students develop an attitude of responsible concern for the quality of their environment, while at the same time leaving them with a feeling that they have a personal investment in their natural surroundings.

Through the study of whales and the environment, students will become aware of whales as vital, important creatures in our complex universe. Whales will be used as a medium for fostering an awareness of the beauty of nature and of the consequences of our actions on the environment. Students will learn the relationship all living things have to one another and will develop social and moral attitudes concerning the conservation of our natural resources. Perhaps most important, students will realize that they are responsible for making sure whales and all endangered species remain on this earth as important members of our ecosystem. Their feelings, attitudes and actions will determine the quality of the lives of other animals, both now and in the future.



  • Develop research techniques through the study of whales.
  • Analyze real-life problems concerning whale conservation.
  • Sense cause and effect relationships as they pertain to environmental issues.
  • Form and test hypotheses concerning environmental issues.
  • Develop leadership qualities, self-control and the ability to cooperate and work together towards a common goal, by working in groups.
  • Foster the ability to be self-directed and to follow direction, by independent work.
  • Develop the ability to gain information from a variety of sources, including books, periodicals, newspapers, magazines, textbooks, encyclopedias, TV documentaries, fact sheets, video and audio cassettes, museum and informed individuals.
  • Organize, analyze and synthesize data and make reports on that data.
  • Evaluate given information and criticize it according to a set standard.
  • Develop letter-writing techniques.
  • Carry out an experiment based on the scientific method.


  • All living things in the world depend on one another.
  • Whales, along with hundreds of other plants and animals, are an endangered species.
  • Human carelessness and exploitation of the environment have led to the extinction of many plant and animal species.
  • Conservation is needed in order to preserve the remaining whale species as well as all remaining endangered plants and animals.
  • People must organize and fight for the passing and observation of whale protection laws.
  • Education and awareness are the key factors necessary to ensure a place for whales, and all other living creatures on earth.
  • Decisions concerning our environment are based on our value orientation.
  • Our feelings, attitudes and actions determine the quality of life on earth, both now and in the future.


  • Whales are sensitive and intelligent creatures who are not on earth for the purpose of human exploitation.
  • We are responsible for enacting laws that will protect whales and all wildlife.
  • Whales are a symbol for all living things. The way we view and treat whales is representative of the way we view and treat all of nature.
  • All living things have a right to live freely without cruelty and exploitation.
  • We need to consider the effects of commercial industry and technology on nature and decide if we want to risk permanently damaging our environment for the sake of economic profit.
  • Students have the ability to make decisions that involve choices between competing values. We must consider the positive and negative effects of our actions on the environment before we take action.
  • By discovering the wonders and beauty of nature, we humans can develop respect and reverence for life and can appreciate clearly our role in helping to protect all other living beings.


Students will conduct a research project on whales using the K-W-L method of research: listing what they know, generating questions that they want answered, writing up a report about all they have learned. Students are introduced to a variety of materials from which to gather their data. (See attached bibliography and list of materials.) As they research, they collect information on the following topics:

  • what is a whale?
  • whale anatomy
  • echolocation
  • migration and distribution
  • feeding
  • reproduction
  • behavior
  • intelligence
  • communication
  • evolution and adaptation
  • habitats
  • history of whaling and modern whaling
  • conservation efforts
  • effects of pollution
  • humans' changing attitudes
  • causes of endangerment

When they have collected all their information, they then begin compiling their data in report form. In their report, they will include drawings, diagrams, maps and any other visual aids necessary to explain their findings properly. Their work is then revised, edited and published in whatever format the students wish. My students make hardcover books using wallpaper, cardboard and paper sewn together. Like any non-fiction (informational) book, this report should contain a table of contents, glossary and bibliography. This book can then be displayed as a science fair project.

This activity can take months to accomplish, depending on the amount of time spent doing the research. During this time, I take the class on field trips to supplement their information. We go to the Museum of Natural History, the New York Aquarium and the Northwind Undersea Institute in the Bronx. If you have the funds and the energy, you can even go whale watching off the coast of Montauk, Long Island.

While they are conducting their research, I also provide students with numerous and varied activities to help them become better acquainted with whales as an endangered species. The following is a list of activities along with a brief explanation of each.


Students write letters to the following people encouraging them to impose economic sanctions on any country that violates the moratorium on commercial whaling as indicated by the International Whaling Commission:

  • Commerce Secretary Mosbacher
  • President Clinton
  • Secretary of State James Baker
  • Senators and Congressmen

Addresses for the above may be obtained from the local office of the League of Women Voters.

  • Create a life-sized papier-mache model of a baby whale of their choice.
  • Make a pod of clay whales.
  • Using strips of paper, students create food chains showing the interdependence of life. They then put a big red dot on a link in one of the chains, indicating a danger zone and hypothesize what would happen to the chain if that link were to become extinct.
  • Students read the children's version of Moby Dick, watch the movie on video and then compare historic whaling to modern day whaling. They can generate a list of products made from whales and try to come up with viable alternatives to the use of whale parts in these products.
  • Conduct an experiment showing the effects of pollution on animals and their habitats. Each child gets a white daisy and places it in a cup containing food coloring. After a day or so, the students observe how the colored water has traveled up the stem and changed the color of the petals. Students then draw the conclusion that polluting the water where the whales live directly affects their food source and their habitat. What goes into the water eventually goes into the whale.
  • With very large boxes, children can create dioramas of different ocean ecosystems: deep ocean, polar seas, tropical waters, coastal waters. In these boxes, they attempt to create an actual ocean habitat complete with plants and various animal species. They might even create a polluted and a non-polluted version.
  • Students pretend they are given unlimited funds with which they create the ideal aquarium habitat for a whale of their choice. They plan and design the aquarium on paper and, depending on the actual funds and supplies, they then construct the aquarium.
  • As a culminating activity the students can write, produce and star in a play written about whales as an endangered species. This gives them the chance to teach others about the need for the conservation of endangered species and the earth's precious resources. Regardless of the way it is presented, this activity provides students with the opportunity to synthesize and organize all the information they have accumulated. Most importantly, by telling others about the great whales' struggle to survive, the students become active participants in the effort to save the planet. Learning about the problems in our world is only the first step. Using that knowledge to do something actively to help change the world should be the student's ultimate goal. It is important to instill in the students the belief that they can make a difference in their world. Any study of an endangered species should leave the students with the belief that they can be part of the solution of a very serious problem.