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