When the rescue crew found the whale, she was barely able to keep her blowhole above the surface to breathe. Hundreds of yards of tangled lines and heavy crab traps were anchoring the whale to the ocean floor. In their efforts to free her, the divers were risking their lives, since one quick move of a whale's tail can kill a person.
As people heard about this whale's actions during and after the rescue, questions arose. Did the whale help the divers by staying still and calm as they cut the lines or was she just exhausted? Was the whale full of joy after being freed or did she swim in circles to stretch out her huge body after being tied up for so long? How do we explain the whale nudging each of the divers, then looking directly at them? (The divers say that this was one of the most fantastic moments of their lives.)
The Eye of the Whale will help inspire classroom conversations about:
Animal emotions; are they like human emotions? Are they different for different kinds of animals? What is anthropomorphism?
Protecting whales and other marine mammals.
What do you know about the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals?
Why are oceans so important for overall planet health, and what can be done to protect them?
What advocacy opportunities related to ocean-related environmental issues exist for kids?
A Note about the Emotional Capabilities of Whales
In 2006, scientists Patrick Hof and Estel Van Der Gucht of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology made an important discovery—that there are spindle cells in a humpback whale's brain. Before that point, spindle cells were only known to exist in the brains of humans and great apes. In humans, spindle cells are responsible for self-awareness, social interaction, and the processing of emotions. In larger whales, these cells were found in the same parts of the brain as in humans—areas that regulate emotional functions such as social organization, empathy, speech, intuition, and rapid gut reactions.
Large whales have up to three times the number of spindle cells as humans and have been evolving these cells for 30 million years—twice as long as humans. Does this mean that they are more advanced and smarter than we are? Scientists don't know, nor do they know if the emotions that we humans feel are the same as those in the great whales. But we do know that large whales have acted in ways that reflect intelligence and suggest a deep emotional capability, as witnessed during the humpback whale rescue featured in The Eye of the Whale. (Source: "Whales in love: Like humans, their brains are wired for romance," by Renee Knight, 10 December 2006, at: www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/whales-in-love-like-humans-their-brains-are-wired-for-romance-427863.html)
Additional Picture Books
The picture books below complement the ideas and information in The Eye of the Whale:
Granny's Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas by Sally Hodson (Dawn Publications, 2012)
Based on actual orca (killer whale) research, this book combines science with the real story of how family, friendship, and a grandmother's love are helping this magnificent but endangered orca clan to survive. Ages 4-8.
Face To Face With Whales by Flip and Linda Nicklin (National Geographic, 2010)
With his beautiful photographs, Flip Nicklin brings us face to face with whales as we learn about different kinds of whales, discover how we can aid their recovery from years of humans overhunting them, and learn how we can protect their environment.
The Secret World of Whales by Charles Siebert, illustrated by Molly Baker (Chronicle Books, developed in collaboration with the NRDC—National Resources Defense Council, 2011)
A chapter book filled with great photos and illustrations, this has several descriptions of human encounters with whales—how whales were (and are) hunted, and how the activities and inventions of humans now impact them. Though whales are obviously very different from humans, Siebert explains that scientists have discovered that whales' brains are very much like those of humans. He gives examples of how we have reached out to them as well as stories of when they have reached out to us—such as during the famous rescue featured in The Eye of the Whale.
The Whale: Giant of the Ocean by Valerie Tracqui, photos by L'Agence PHO.N.E. (Charlesbridge, 1997)
Using fabulous photographs and informative text, this book provides an excellent overview of whales, with a special focus on humpbacks. It discusses many aspects of whale life ranging from the physical traits of whales to their behavior, and also discusses how we can protect them.
Sea Soup: Zooplankton by Mary M. Cerullo (Tilbury House, 2001)
The diet of humpback whales consists of plankton, krill, and small schooling fish. This is a good book to help understand the importance of these creatures, not just to whales, but to all life on the planet. Ages 8-12.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012)
Sylvia Earle has dedicated her life to learning more about what she calls "the blue heart of the planet." Sylvia's ocean exploration and advocacy have made her known around the world. This picture-book biography also includes an informative author's note that will motivate young environmentalists.
Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino (Dragonfly Books, 2012)
A short biography of a real-world hero: famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. This is a brief text that includes a few direct quotes. The book covers Cousteau's lifelong fascination with the sea, filmmaking, and invention, and shows the scientist as a young boy, tinkering with cameras and swimming in the ocean to recover from chronic illness. Ages 4-9.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps (Schwartz & Wade, 2011)
This book shows children the value of "watching" and it introduces them to a hero—Jane Goodall. Although not about whales or oceans, Goodall's work relates to protecting all animals, including those who live in the sea. Ages 4-8.
Activity: How Big Is a Humpback Whale?
Using rope and yardsticks or rulers, the children measure and outline a humpback's 16-foot-long and 4-foot-wide flipper, its 18-foot-wide tail, or even its entire 50-foot-long body if this activity takes place out on the playground or in a large room. Students can compare the size of the whale, or its flippers and tail, to familiar objects that they know, like a bicycle, car, school bus, or their own body! This will help them appreciate the enormous size of the humpback whale featured in The Eye of the Whale.
Activity: How Marine Animals Stay Warm
Whales and seals are warm-blooded animals and depend on a thick layer of body fat called blubber to keep them warm in the cold New England seas. The blubber on a large whale can be up to 24 inches thick. It is almost impossible for the cold to get through the blubber and chill the whale. To learn how blubber works, make a "blubber mitt" and see how it protects from the cold.
You'll need: One cup solid shortening such as Crisco, Ziploc-type bags (without sliders), some duct tape, a basin of cold, icy water, or a basin of snow.
Put one cup of shortening into a Ziploc bag. Turn the second bag inside out and put it inside the bag with the shortening, being sure to reverse the zipper tracks. Join the bags together at the top by zipping them to each other. For added protection, you can seal the bags around the zipper with duct tape. Push the shortening around, from the outside, to distribute it evenly in the "mitt." For each mitt, make an empty mitt, without shortening, so you can compare it with the insulated one.
Place one hand in an empty mitt and one in an insulated mitt (with the shortening) and then place both hands in a basin of cold, icy water. The "blubber" mitt will protect your hand from the cold. Whale blubber acts the same way to help maintain the animal's body heat in cold water. (Adapted from Giving Back to the Earth: A Teacher's Guide for Project Puffin and other Seabird Studies.)
Activity: Mural or Bulletin Board Challenge
Classes can create a mural and divide it in half vertically. On the left side of the mural children use cut-out drawings and/or paintings and collage to illustrate an ocean in distress (bleached out coral, murky water, entangled whales, over-fishing, whale hunts, etc.) They brainstorm all of the influences that endanger our oceans and its animal life. Examples written along the left side of the mural might include pollution; sonar and other noise pollution that disorients sea animals; large boat propellers that wound whales; whale entanglement in fishing/crab trap lines; oil slicks, etc.
On the right side of the mural, the children paste/tape or paint what the ocean would look like with all the destructive forces eliminated. Images might include whales and fish swimming in bright blue water; colorful coral and plant life; recycling containers placed on the shore, etc. The actions taken to help the ocean would be listed on the right side of the mural.
Activity: Stream Clean-Up
Children form a crew with their classmates, teachers, and/or parents to clean up a local stream, river, or creek. By doing so, they will be creating a cleaner ocean for whales and other sea animals, since the water nearby will eventually end up in the ocean.
Activity: Adopt a Marine Mammal
Classrooms could consider joining an Adopt-a-Seal® program for a year. Membership provides a series of different marine mammal adoptees, complete with their biography and color photo (12 total). The Marine Mammal Center is dedicated to helping expand knowledge about marine mammals and to inspiring their global conservation. To learn more about this go here: /www.marinemammalcenter.org/Get-Involved/adopt-a-seal/#.UPgyHEb2DKl