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Explore Blubber

Explore Blubber

January 23, 2020

How do whales, polar bears or even penguins stay warm? The ocean can be a chilly place, but there are many mammals who call it home! How do some of our favorite mammals live in such cold conditions? It has to do with something called blubber. While you and I don’t need much of it to survive, creatures like polar bears, whales, seals, and penguins definitely do! Test out how blubber works as an insulator.

What you need:

  • Large bowl
  • Ice
  • Cold water
  • 4 ziplock sandwich bags
  • Thermometer (optional)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Spatula
  • Towel

What you do:

1. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water.

2. Turn a ziplock bag inside out, place the bag on your hand, and use a spatula to cover both sides of the bag in vegetable shortening.

3. Place the shortening coated bag inside another bag and seal.

4. Turn a clean bag inside out, place it inside another clean bag and seal.

5. Place one hand in each bag and place your hands in the ice water

6. Which hand gets cold faster? Observe how your hands feel and then use a thermometer to check the actual temperature inside each bag.

What should happen?

The fat molecules in the shortening act like an insulator, just like the blubber. Insulation slows the transfer of heat, keeping the whale warm in very low temperatures. Other animals that use this feature are the polar bear, penguin, and seal! To make this into a true science experiment, let’s test some variables!

First, you want to make sure to test the temperature with a plain bag on your hand. That will be your control!

What are other kinds of insulators could you test?  Choose a few other materials to observe and record the temperature within the bags.

What variables will you keep the same?  Make sure to test the temperature within each bag at the same length of time after being covered in ice.  What about the amount of ice?  Make sure to have the same amount of ice in each bowl.