Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures

Using Ocean Adventures in the Classroom
A Word from Jean-Michel Cousteau
Educator Guide to Voyage to Kure
Educator Guide to Sharks at Risk
Educator Guide to The Gray Whale Obstacle Course
Educator Guide to America's Underwater Treasures
Educator Guide to Return to the Amazon
Educator Guide to Sea Ghosts (Belugas)
Educator Guide to Call of the Killer Whale
The Watershed Quest
Tips for Using Science Multimedia
Educator Web Links
Download Library
Outreach Partners


Whale Watcher Game Lesson

In the Web-based game Whale Watcher, students take on the role of an Ocean Adventures expedition member in charge of filming various gray whale behaviors as the team follows the whales on their annual migration. Use the tips and handouts provided below to turn the Whale Watcher game into a structured learning activity for your students.

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Grades 6-10

One to two class periods

Students will be able to:

  • describe the gray whale migration route and reasons for the migration.
  • draw a sample gray whale food chain.
  • graph the relationship between rising ocean temperature and declining gray whale population.
  • predict what would happen to gray whales if they did not exhibit certain behaviors.


National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (at

Science As Inquiry - Content Standard A:
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

Life Science - Content Standard C:
Reproduction and heredity
Regulation and behavior
Populations and ecosystems
Diversity and adaptations of organisms

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives - Content Standard F:
Populations, resources and environments
Science and technology in society

Ocean Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts (at
Essential Principle #1: Earth has one big ocean with many features.
a. The ocean is the dominant physical feature on our planet Earth, covering approximately 70 percent of the planet's surface. There is one ocean with many ocean basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian and Arctic.

Essential Principle #5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
d. Ocean biology provides many unique examples of life cycles, adaptations and important relationships among organisms (symbiosis, predator-prey dynamics and energy transfer) that do not occur on land.

e. The ocean is three-dimensional, offering vast living space and diverse habitats from the surface through the water column to the seafloor. Most of the living space on Earth is in the ocean.

i. Estuaries provide important and productive nursery areas for many marine and aquatic species.

Essential Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
b. From the ocean we get foods, medicines, and mineral and energy resources. In addition, it provides jobs, supports our nation's economy, serves as a highway for transportation of goods and people, and plays a role in national security.

e. Humans affect the ocean in a variety of ways. Laws, regulations and resource management affect what is taken out and put into the ocean. Human development and activity leads to pollution (point source, nonpoint source and noise pollution) and physical modifications (changes to beaches, shores and rivers). In addition, humans have removed most of the large vertebrates from the ocean.

f. Everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean. The ocean sustains life on Earth, and humans must live in ways that sustain the ocean. Individual and collective actions are needed to effectively manage ocean resources for all.

In the third episode of Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures, The Gray Whale Obstacle Course, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team trail gray whales from their birthplace in the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico, to their nutrient-rich feeding grounds in the Bering Sea in Alaska in order to document and understand the variety of natural and man-made hurdles that these creatures must overcome in order to survive. This amazing expedition unlocks seldom-seen views of tragedy and triumph along a route that is nearly 12,000 miles long. Based on the experiences of the Ocean Adventures team along the migration route, Whale Watcher is an educational look into the many behaviors gray whales exhibit that help them to survive along the coast of North America. Playing the part of an Ocean Adventures volunteer team member, students are charged with capturing various whale behaviors on film as well as with gathering additional information about the threats the whales face on their long journey. The game takes students above and below the water in five different locations along the migration route -- Baja California, Mexico; San Diego, California; Monterey, California; Depoe Bay, Oregon; and the Bering Sea in Alaska. Points are earned by capturing behaviors on film in a dwindling amount of time, and additional points can be accumulated by reading more in-depth information about the behaviors and threats discovered. Upon completion of the game, students analyze their data and compile a report describing what they have learned, then submit their report to the Volunteer Supervisor (the teacher).


  • Using blank student handouts, play Whale Watcher yourself, paying particular attention to where you think your students will need extra guidance.
  • Review the Game Background and the Answer Key.
  • Based on the availability of computers, decide the best way for students to play the game -- individually, in pairs or in groups.

1. Introducing migration and adaptation: Use ideas from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Guide to set the scene. Pay particular attention to the Segment Suggestions for the migration and adaptation themes. If you do not have access to The Gray Whale Obstacle Course episode, the Ocean Adventures Trace the Migration interactive and introductory activity may be sufficient preliminary activities.

2. Game setup: Pass out the Volunteers Wanted! notice, a fictional posting from the Ocean Adventures team for a volunteer position introducing volunteers (the students) to their gray whale mission. Give students an overview of how to play Whale Watcher, hand out the Migration Data Sheet, the Gray Whale Behavior Data Sheet and the Migration Threats Data Sheet and explain that they will be collecting information on these organizers for later use. Have students record their hypotheses on their Migration Data Sheet before game play begins.

3. Game preparation: Tell students that in order to prepare for their gray whale mission, Jean-Michel Cousteau has asked them to do some background research. Hand out the Migration Data Sheet and give students time to collect information from the Trace the Migration interactive as well as from the opening information in the Whale Watcher Game.

4. Game Play: Allow students sufficient time to play the game and collect data.

5. Data Sharing: Set aside time for students to gather in small groups to review data after game play has ended to ensure all students have understood the game.

6. Reporting Information: Pass out the Reporting Data handout and explain the directions. Students will submit this report to you, their Volunteer Supervisor.


  • Depending on the number of computers available, you might want to make adjustments, such as having students play the game on alternate days.
  • When students are working in groups, it may be advantageous for each group member to collect different information for the organizer, then share it with the rest of the group (be sure to have group members rotate who actually plays the game). Another option is to have separate individuals/pairs/groups collect different information, then share their data in small groups after game play. For example, pair #1 collects behavior data and pair #2 collects data on threats facing the whales; after game play, the two pairs join together to share and explain the data they have collected.


  • Lead students in the following activities to explore the gray whale and its migration more deeply:
    • Whale Adaptations: (PDF) Use this collection of hands-on activities to experience simulations of whale adaptations.
    • San Ignacio Lagoon: Ecology or Economy?: (PDF) Investigate the various sides of the debate on the best use of the Mexican lagoons where the gray whales calve and in which salt is plentiful.
    • Gray Whales on the Move: (PDF) Track two gray whales along their migration route using longitude and latitude and interpret data for two migrating whales.
  • Have students investigate how satellite tagging of whales works by instructing them to read the satellite tagging article, Tag, You're It!, and to then draw visual representations of the information in the article.
  • Students may be interested in how the whales find their way along the migration. They can get a jump-start on a research project by reading the article, Navigating the Long Way Home.
  • Introduce students to the Ocean Adventures expedition team and their diverse careers using the Ocean Careers lesson.
  • Visit the Journey North Web site for additional activities related to animal migrations.

Jessica Neely is the KQED Education Network Project Supervisor for Science Initiatives. Prior to this she was a secondary Life and Environmental Science Teacher. KQED Education Network uses the power of KQED Public Broadcasting to inspire learning by providing projects for youth and curriculum materials and professional development for teachers, child care providers and families.

These Ocean Adventures lessons and other materials are available as printer-friendly PDFs (Portable Document Format). To download and view the lesson plans as a PDF, you may first have to get Adobe Acrobat Reader, available for free on Adobe's Web site. The Reader is available for most computer platforms, and once downloaded the lessons may be viewed on-screen as well as printed out. Get Acrobat Reader software (at