Whale of a Tale

Activity One: Imagining the natural environment for stories set near the ocean

This Activity will activate and assess students' prior knowledge about the natural environment and, specifically, ocean environments.



  • This is the first of three video clips of Jonathan Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag from Massachusetts. Consider using two of his points as writing or discussion prompts: 1) His statement that the whales have sacrificed themselves for people; what does he mean? 2) His comparison of whales' lives and importance with humans. Do students agree that in many ways whales are more important than humans? Imagine a whale's life (after undertaking some research) and write about it, comparing it with a human's life.

  • Brainstorm: Ask students to think of natural events that may be observed by people living near the ocean all over the globe, including everyday events like tides, or catastrophic events such as storms, tsunamis, floods, and environmental pollution.  Place their responses on chart paper. Review students' responses. Their responses will probably be based on information they have learned in science. This will allow you to assess prior knowledge and set the stage for the next part of the activity.


If students are slow to begin, prompt them by suggesting current natural events that are affecting people who live near oceans.



  • Ask students to add to the above list the kinds of animals living in the ocean that would be seen by people who lived on the shore. Record responses.

  • Tell students that the class will be reading or hearing stories from Alaska, Canada, Hawai`i and Massachusetts. Have students locate these places on a world map. Either display photos of the locations or direct students to an Internet search for images of the respective locales. Ask students to describe what the coastline looks like and the climate in each place.

  • Look at the responses to the brainstorm and ask students to remove or add to the list.

For stories about whaling . . .

Visit this link to find video clips and ideas about hunting whales in the north Pacific.

The next four video clips on this page provide images of whales, one on the East Coast, the other in the Arcrtic. Use the clips to stimulate student discussion, writing, and research.


The first two clips show a whale stranding on Cape Cod, traditional home of the Wamponoag people.



  • Have students watch this clip, taken in 2002. If this had happened near their home, what would they have done? Do a fast-write on the topic.

This closer view of the pilot whale stranding on Cape Cod shows a young whale and its mother. Students can hear the whales' vocalizations.



  • Have students research pilot whales' life cycles, feeding habits, and geographic range. Ask them to try to answer the questions, "Why did these pilot whales become stranded? Does it happen often?" A useful web site can be accessed through this link.

  • Have students write a story based on this event. It may be either a first-person narrative or a story told from the whales' point of view.

This video clip shows gray whales trapped in the ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, in the fall of 1988. Gray whales are no longer hunted by the Iñupiat or Yupiget -- they're said to be too feisty -- but were once a source of food for the indigenous people. These whales were able to breathe because Roy Amagoak cut a large rectangle into the ice so they could be exposed to the air, but they could not swim to open water because the ice was so thick. Have a student conduct Internet research to find out what happened to the whales. (Note: a feature film is due out in 2012 about the incident.)

In contrast to gray whales, bowhead whales are hunted today by the Iñupiaq of the North Slope of Alaska and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik of western Alaska.


This video clip might offer a surprising view to your students of a part of the ocean most are not familiar with: life on the frozen Arctic Ocean. Have students watch it and discuss what they notice. If no one mentions it, bring out the point that cooperation involving the entire community is the only way the people can harvest the whale. Ask for examples of community-wide cooperation in your community.


Tell students to keep these images in mind as they read one of the stories in this Learning Center, a non-traditional story set in northern Alaska called Whale Snow.