Teachers Guide - Southern Right Whales

Documentary Overview Discover more about the lives of Southern Right Whales in Argentina. Follow the research of international scientists working to understand and protect these whales, and their marine environment.

The Program

  • Visits the calving ground of a 50 million year old whale in Patagonia, Argentina.
  • Uncovers how this species evolved from a small, land based wolf-like ancestor and adapted to a life at sea.
  • Explains how in just a few short centuries, human exploitation almost drove this whale to extinction because it was the 'right whale to kill'.
  • Follows Southern Right whales on what we currently know about their migration route to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean.
  • Discusses what makes Peninsula Valdes an important area for this species. Why they come to the calm and protected waters of the Peninsula for 5 months each year.
  • Features the research of local and international scientists and conservationists working to raise awareness and help protect this species. Shows the methods used to collect and analyze scientific data.
  • Relates some of the continued threats right whales face, even after decades of protection from hunting. A native species of gull, the kelp gull, poses one of the biggest threats to the South American population.
  • Explores the potential impacts of global warming on the primary food source of southern right whales - krill.
  • Shows whale watching as a way to increase knowledge about whales and the marine environment, while contributing to the conservation of these endangered whales.

Viewing Ideas

Before Viewing:

  1. Talk with students about the ancestors of whales and show the image of the Pakicetus.
    • Explain the closest living relatives of whales today are pigs and hippopotamus and that they are air-breathing mammals like humans.
    • Explain that whales belong to the order cetacea, which includes 86 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that come in a range of sizes, colors, and shapes. Explore the earthOCEAN Gallery - Whales & Dolphins.
    • Look at a map of the world and discuss the distribution of cetaceans and how they have evolved to exploit all marine and some freshwater habitats. Help students locate the range of southern right whales in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
  2. Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of the following topics. Advise students to take notes throughout the video.
    • In what ways have modern whales evolved from their land dwelling ancestors, and how do they use these adaptations?
    • What do researchers currently know about southern right whale family history, distribution and migration patterns and what questions are they still trying to answer?
    • What threats have right whales faced throughout history, and what are the greatest threats today?
    • How can people learn more about whales and how can we protect them and their environment?

After Viewing:

  1. Begin by giving students time to compare and discuss their notes among the group. Ask volunteers from each of the four groups to report their findings to the rest of the class.
  2. Class discussion. Ask students how they would feel about being a cetacean researcher. What are some of the challenges southern right whale researchers face? How does their work contribute to the conservation of right whales? How does learning about the ecology of southern right whales and their habitat, help us protect them?

Classroom Activity

Objective:

Utilize information technology to investigate the world of cetacean research and conservation. Develop your own research question on a cetacean species of your choice.

Materials:

  • Computer (Depending on accessibility, students can work independently, in pairs or groups.)
  • Internet access
  • Cetacean Profile Handout

Procedure:

  1. Understanding cetaceans and their habitat helps scientists organize research and conservation projects. In this activity, students are going to choose their own species to investigate and then design a small research project around it to answer a specific question.
  2. Depending on access to computers, organize students into groups, providing each with a copy of the Cetacean Profile Handout.
  3. Have students search online for information and choose one cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) species that specifically appeals to them.
  4. Instruct students to thoroughly research their chosen cetacean species, including its natural history, ecology and status, as well as examples of current related research programs.
  5. From their research, students will develop a 'research question' they feel is important, and design a small research project around it. This will include location, time frame, research team and data collection methods.
  6. Students will give a 5-mintue presentation to the class on their chosen cetacean species. They will describe its ecology and behavior; explain what is known, and still unknown about this animal. Describe the area of the world it inhabits and what threats it currently faces. Describe what research question they would like to answer. How they will go about collecting data, what question they are trying to answer and what conservation value their work could have on the long-term survival of this species and the protection of its habitat. (NOTE: If possible, a guest speaker from the field of ocean/cetacean research will give students further insight and access to this filed of science)

Activity Answer:

Students use what they learned about southern right whales in Patagonia, Argentina as a catalyst in designing their own research question. Students see the connectedness between species and their habitat, and their dependence on a healthy ecosystem.

This technology-based activity gives students a real worldview of cetacean research and it challenges, as well as experience in designing their own research question, and evaluating its relevance to conservation.

Related Resources

Links:

  • www.wdcs.org This website address issues affecting whales, dolphins and porpoises around the globe.
  • www.rightwhaleweb.org This website specifically addresses the conservation and research efforts related to the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Books

  • Right Whales (World Life Library) by Phil Clapham.

Classroom Application

The 'Southern Right Whales of Argentina' Activity program is specifically directed at Grades 9 - 12 science, environmental education, and IT studies.

Lateral thinking allows activities encompassing whales and dolphins to link into a wide range of secondary curriculum areas. An awareness of other animals, particularly the study of charismatic keynote species, is crucial for students to learn about the issues involved in conservation and how the choices we make affect the world around us. Learning about the lives of other animals changes our 'world view', fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages action. The topic of whales and dolphins fits most obviously into the science learning area. However, there is ample opportunity to incorporate whales and dolphins into the geography, English and art frameworks. "

Classroom Activity Author

Genevieve Johnson has taught middle and high school students in the area of environmental education for the past 12 years. She has also spent six years as a cetacean field researcher on a global science and education expedition called the Voyage of the Odyssey. As well as teaching in a classroom, Genevieve designed the 'Class from the Sea' and 'Ocean Encounters' programs, designing curriculum and linking with students around the globe from the research vessel.