Blubber experiment: How animals stay warm

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A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium. My husband, the kids, and I enjoyed a wonderful day viewing the exhibits and deepening our knowledge of the animals that live in the ocean.

One of the exhibits was designed to give kids a sense of what blubber feels like. The exhibit had a white, rubbery substance that kids could press and push on. I used the exhibit to talk with my kids about the purpose of blubber and how it keeps animals warm. Well, when we returned home I decided to go even further and let my kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps animals warm with a simple blubber experiment.

Note: For more resources, printables and activities related to the ocean and its inhabitants, please see my ocean unit study page.

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment lets kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

I should start by saying that we had actually done this blubber experiment more than a year ago during our Arctic animals unit. The kids did recall that blubber was for keeping animals warm, but they did not remember doing this experiment. But it’s such a simple and effective one that I thought it was worth repeating.

I started by preparing two oceans containers of icy, cold water.

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment will let kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

I then filled a plastic bag with clarified butter (aka, ghee). It was really warm on this day so the clarified butter was too soft to effectively wrap around my kids’ fingers. I ended up placing it in the fridge for about 15 minutes. The goal was to firm it up so it wouldn’t just turn in to a melted mess upon coming into contact with my kids’ fingers.

As for how much butter to put in. . . I didn’t measure it exactly. My goal was to put a sufficiently large chunk of butter in the bag so that it would completely wrap around a child’s finger.

(Note: We used clarified butter/ghee because it was what we had on hand, but this experiment could just as easily be done with regular butter rather than clarified butter.)

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment will let kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

Once the bag of clarified butter was ready, I pulled out a second plastic bag.

I explained to the kids that the bag was like skin and the butter was like blubber. We were going to see how well skin alone would keep an animal warm compared to how well skin plus blubber would keep an animal warm.

QBoy went first, and put one finger into the empty bag. He then put a second finger into the middle of the ball of ghee. I made sure that his entire finger was covered in clarified butter and none of his finger was poking through the clarified butter.

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment will let kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

At that point, I let QBoy dip his fingers into the icy, cold ocean containers of water.

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment will let kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

It wasn’t long before he took the finger in the plastic bag out of the water, complaining that it was too cold for him. But he had no difficulty leaving the blubber-covered finger in.

The Blubber Experiment: This simple experiment will let kids experience for themselves how blubber keeps an animal warm in cold temperatures || Gift of Curiosity

Lesson learned!

More resources for learning about the ocean

More ocean posts from Gift of Curiosity:


For more resources, printables and activities related to the ocean and its inhabitants, please see my Ocean Unit Study page and my Oceans Pinterest board.

Follow Gift of Curiosity’s board Ocean Unit Ideas on Pinterest.

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Comments

  1. Brenna says

    This is a great experiment we use for a marine mammal summer camp! It works great with lard too – for us butter is expensive, so lard works well ;). Also if you want to stay a bit cleaner (who wants to do that?!) you can scoop ~2 cups of lard into a strong freezer bag, then work another bag into it, with your hand in the bag, and work the lard so that it is distributed evenly and sandwiched between the two. We used duct tape to ‘seal’ (no pun intended) the bags together. This way we can use the bags again and again, storing them in the freezer.

  2. says

    You can also use shortening, which might be a bit cheaper than butter, I know that’s what we used when I was teaching, and like Brenna said, add a second bag.

    Of course for me, no matter if I try 2 bags or 1 bag, I always seem to end up ridiculously messy.

    Thanks for linking up again.

  3. Suzanne says

    HI,
    Why not just have the kids put on a fabric glove and then a rubber glove over it? I did this blubber experiment years ago and it was so unbelievably messy. I switched to the gloves and it taught the concept without causing a need for a huge clean up.

    • says

      If mess is a real concern, I agree your idea could work. But since blubber is literally made of fat, I liked the idea of having my kids wear real “blubber” to see its insulating properties.

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