{Arctic studies} blubber - MelyndaCoble.com

{Arctic studies} blubber

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One of the things that makes polar bears so successful in the Arctic is their thick layer of fat (around 4 inches!). Some of the books we are reading call it blubber, but technically it’s a specialized type of fat. Seals, however, do have blubber and polar bears love to eat it.

A bear’s fat helps insulate its body and keep it warm. It also helps it float, which is one of the reasons polar bears are such great swimmers. After a trip to the gym (to help get rid of some of my fat) we studied bear fat.

We started off with our fun song and movement activity. I felt a little silly leading a song like this at first. I’ve done lots of things like this in front of groups of kids, but somehow it felt kind of lame in the living room with just my two boys. Fortunately, I got over myself, because they love doing it.

Next up was Face to Face with Polar Bears by Norbert Rosing and Elizabeth Carney. This book is pretty good, but they do call bear fat “blubber.” There was one other little mistake, but I don’t recall what it was. It does go to show that you need more than one reference, even when reading sciency literature. Maybe especially when reading sciencey literature. It did give us a good start to a discussion about double checking sources. And the rest of the book is great.

We talked about how we stay warm when it’s cold outside.

To better understand the blubber situation, we watched this video:


and this video:


They are both short and a little advanced for my kids, but we talked about them in a way they could understand.

Next we experimented with some fat to see if it really does keep you warm.

We filled a bowl with ice water then put each hand/arm in a plastic bag. Then we put one bagged hand into another bag filled with Crisco. We made sure the hand was totally covered in Crisco and then submerged both hands into the icy Hudson Bay water. The boys got to feel how much warmer the fat hand was. It was kind of gross, but effective. (Sidenote: if anyone needs some Crisco, I have more than half a can that I am willing to donate ;))

Conclusion: fat is good when you live somewhere cold, so go ahead and have another slice of seal blubber this winter. I hear it’s good with a little salt.

BTW: There is a little contest going on over at Polarn O. Pyret’s Facebook page. If you have a minute and could head over there to “like” my post, I’d appreciate it. I’m in a running for a $250 gift certificate. You have to “like” PO.P first, though.

8 thoughts on “{Arctic studies} blubber”

  1. Oh very cool. Our local Science Center has a wall of ice and several different things you can put on your hand to touch the ice to give you a feel of which works best. That wall is a huge favorite with the kids.

  2. I might pull an activity out of my environmental educators hat later this week that sounds similar. We’ll test whether fur, fat or feathers keeps you warmer. I just need to come up with some fur….

    It won’t be as cool as an ice wall (pun intended-sorry) but it should be fun.

  3. You can use polar fleece instead of fur. It isn’t as “naturey” (I’ve decided that is a word), but it was created on the idea that it was like fur… or wool, it’s a specialized fur(?) You could then wet out the down and show how it looses its insulating power, but the fur/wool and fat don’t. Cotton Kills is always a great song :) You can never learn it too early.

    When we visited Mt. Rainier for the Wonderland Trail, The Barracuda had to get his covetted Ranger Patch. This made us go to a Junior Ranger presentation I was dreading, but it turned out pretty great. They made edible glaciers with gram crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. I totally thought of you.

  4. Oh, good ideas, G.G. I was going to use a down jacket for the feathers, but was stymied by the fur.

    I might need to hear more about those edible glaciers–that sounds right up my alley. I am so proud that you think of me when eating treats in a National Park and learning about glaciers!

  5. It was a really neat idea. The Ranger Lady (as my son continues to call her) explained that there is snow that falls on rocks and dirt and ground debris and such. Gram crackers are crumbled into a dixie cup, they are dirt. Mini chocolate chips are tossed in, they are rocks. Then snow…marshmallows. Lots more snow falls and begins to press down on the dirt and rocks. Small hands get to push the snow down with lots of pressure. As the ice mass moves more dirt and rocks are scrapped off (enter more crumbled graham crackers and mini chocolate chips), then more snow falls and freezes causing more pressure. More smashing, another layer, more smashing. In the end there is quite a smashed up marshmallow ice glob filled with dirt and rocks. The kid still remembers it much better than our previous explanations of glaciation.

    It was very you…or at least the you that I read online. You could really be an ultra-conservative corporate lawyer in reality land.

    You can YouTube “Cotton Kills”. I think there is a video of some teenagers singing it at camp if I remember right. The Barracuda still sings it when we hike.

  6. How did you know I was secretly a corporate lawyer? ;) Ha- not even close.

    We are definitely doing that glacier/marshmallow thing one of these days. That sounds really cool (and tasty).

    And I am looking up the song now. It will go nicely with the other songs I sing on the trail– The Scat Song, The Water Cycle, Photosynthesis etc. I am going to drive my boys crazy one of these days.

  7. Two Project Wild activities came to mind when I read this (although I had to look up the names just now) “Polar Bears in Phoenix” and “What Bear Goes Where”. They could both be adapted to fit in nicely this this! I love it. Bookmarking this activity. Thanks!

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