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


The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Guide

"Our goals are to help more people become aware of threats to gray whales, to encourage decision makers to protect these whales and to promote more scientific research on marine mammals. In this way, we can ultimately pass on to the next generation something that is as good as - if not better than - what we found."

- Jean-Michel Cousteau

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Education and investigation of whale adaptations to natural and man-made migration obstacles

In The Gray Whale Obstacle Course, Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Ocean Adventures team travel the length of the gray whales' migration route. They begin in the warm waters of Magdalena Bay in Baja California, Mexico, where the gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. The team searches for clues about this resilient species to gain a better understanding of the increasing challenges, both natural and man-made, that gray whales face along the way.

Detailed description of the program

One hour total; viewing in shorter segments is recommended

Students will be able to

  • understand the human activities that impact gray whale migration and food supply.
  • identify adaptations that help the gray whale to survive.
  • learn about techniques that humans have developed in order to collect data and track whale migration.
  • understand how global warming effects gray whales.


National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (at

Life Science - Content Standard C:
Populations and ecosystems
Interdependence of organisms
Behavior of organisms

Science and Technology - Content Standard E:
Understanding about science and technology

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives - Content Standard F:
Natural resources
Environmental quality
Populations, resources and environments
Natural and human-induced hazards
Science and technology in society

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

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.
h. Although the ocean is large, it is finite and its resources are limited.

Essential Principle # 5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
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.
c. The ocean is a source of inspiration, recreation, rejuvenation and discovery. It is also an important element in the heritage of many cultures.
e. Humans affect the ocean in a variety of ways. Laws, regulations and resource management affect what is taken out of 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.
g. 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 in order to effectively manage ocean resources for all.

Essential Principle #7: The ocean is largely unexplored.
c. Over the last 40 years, use of ocean resources has increased significantly; therefore the future of sustainability of ocean resources depends on our understanding of those resources and their potential and limitations.
d. New technologies, sensors and tools are expanding our ability to explore the ocean. Ocean scientists are relying more and more on satellites, drifters, buoys, subsea observations and unmanned submersibles.


  • Brainstorm all the ways you can think of that scientists can collect data and track where, when and how gray whales migrate.
  • Make a list of all the harmful and nonharmful ways that humans use the oceans today.
  • Explore the interactive map: Trace the Gray Whale Migration. Discuss the concept of ocean basins and learn in which ocean basin the gray whale migration takes place.
  • Read the detailed episode description of The Gray Whale Obstacle Course. Pay particular attention to the vocabulary words, and record and define them on the Ocean Vocabulary Sheet (PDF).

Use The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions (PDF) that go with the segments you watch.


  • Make a collage showing either (1) all the different ways that whales have adapted to their environment or (2) the tools that researchers use to study and collect data on gray whales. Use pictures from the download library to help.
  • Research on the Internet or at the library to find out where all of the salt mines of the world are located, then map them.
  • Read the satellite tagging article, Tag You're It! Find out more about how satellites are used to study whale migration.
  • How do gray whales find their way on the migration route? Use How Do They Find Their Way? to discover their secrets.
  • Play the Whale Watcher Game with your students. Use the accompanying lesson plan for help.

NOTE: See Teacher Sheet for segment location on PBS Home Video DVD.

Theme: Adaptations

Location in The Gray Whale Obstacle Course: Feeding; Magdalena Bay; Killer whales; Depoe Bay; Acoustic pollution

Pre-Viewing Questions:

  • What do you think whales eat for nutritional value?
  • How do gray whales feed and how much food do you think they need?
  • What kind of environmental pollution do you think affects whales during their migration?
  • Why do you think orcas are also called killer whales?

Focus for Viewing:

  • For Feeding, use questions 6 through 12 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Magdalena Bay, use questions 6 through 8 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Killer whales, use questions 3 through 10 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Depoe Bay, use questions 3 and 8 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Acoustic pollution, use questions 1 through 4 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.

Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

  • List the kinds of pollution that the gray whales face during their migration.
  • Why do killer whales work together while they feed on the gray whales?
  • Describe the adaptations of gray whales related to feeding and migration.

Follow-up Activity:

  • Use the Gray Whale Adaptations lesson plan (PDF) to help your students explore the different adaptations that help gray whales survive. Lab groups can investigate how sound travels underwater, replicate how blubber keeps marine animals warm and simulate common feeding methods of whales.
  • Conduct library or Internet research and write a report on a specific whale species. Write about its physical attributes, behaviors, migration patterns, and feeding and mating habits.



Theme: Migration

Location in The Gray Whale Obstacle Course: Introduction; Magdalena Bay; Satellite tagging; Whale watching; Photo I.D.

Pre-Viewing Questions:

  • Describe all the different ways that you think researchers can track and collect data on how many whales are actually in the ocean.
  • What kinds of technology do you think are used to study whale migration?
  • Why do you think whales (or other animals) need to migrate? Why do people move?

Focus for Viewing:

  • For the Introduction, use questions 1 through 4 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Magdalena Bay, use questions 1 through 3 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Satellite tagging, use questions 1 through 9 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Whale watching, use questions 4 through 7 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Photo I.D., use questions 1 through 4 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.

Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

  • What role do scientists play in helping to protect the gray whale population?
  • List specific data-collection techniques that researchers are using today to investigate gray whales.
  • What are some possible explanations for the disappearance of one-third of the gray whale population?

Follow-up Activity:

  • Use the Gray Whales on the Move lesson plan (PDF) to deepen your students' knowledge and understanding of where, when and why whales migrate and also to expand on your students' map-reading skills.
  • Use the Trace the Migration interactive map to find out more about what happens along the migration route. Create your own map illustrating the hazards the whales face on their journey.
  • Draw illustrations of four different species of whales and compare the many different attributes that are unique to each whale.



Theme: Calving grounds

Location in The Gray Whale Obstacle Course: San Ignacio Lagoon; Magdalena Bay

Previewing Questions:

  • What are all the things a baby gray whale needs from its mother?
  • Describe how you think salt is mined from the oceans.

Focus for Viewing:

  • For the San Ignacio Lagoon, use questions 2 through 6 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.
  • For Magdalena Bay, use questions 1 through 5 from The Gray Whale Obstacle Course Viewing Questions.

Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think a salt mine does to its surrounding environment?
  • List specific ways that whales take care of their young.
  • What is it about Magdalena Bay that makes it such a great nursery for gray whales?

Follow-up Activity:

  • Learn how salt mining can affect the migration patterns of whales by using the San Ignacio Lagoon: Ecology or Economy lesson plan (PDF)
  • Create a poster that illustrates the best environment for a whale nursery. Make a color-coded legend on the side that labels a nursery's most important attributes.
  • Make a list of all the different ways you could educate your schoolmates and your community about what is happening to the gray whale population. Do one of the things on your list.

Elsie Ovrahim is an Oakland middle school science teacher and an independent contractor for the KQED Education Network. KQED Education Network uses the power of KQED Public Media to inspire learning by providing curriculum materials, professional development, online resources and special events for educators, child-care providers, families, youth and the community at large.

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