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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Marine Researcher as a STEM Career

Every year on June 8, World Oceans Day gives us all the chance to celebrate the oceans, and commit to taking action to protect marine environments and sea life across the globe.

This year, you can celebrate the day by having a whale of a time exploring the career path of a marine mammal researcher!


Materials Needed

  • Black marker
  • Cardstock or cardboard (to make a template)
  • Copy paper
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Photocopier access (if possible)


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Create an ocean-inspired room setting or workspace. Here are some ideas you can try:
    • Play humpback whale sounds or other ocean-inspired music or soundscapes.
    • Lay out blue material or a plastic tablecloth to represent the ocean.
    • Take out ocean books from your local library and stand them up around the room.
    • Fill jars with water and place one to three drops of blue food coloring in them. Consider adding sea life toys for special effect!  
  2. Conduct a safe internet search to check out the wide variety of humpback whale fluke (tail) patterns that can be used to identify individual whales.
  3. Using an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of cardstock or cardboard, draw an outline of a whale tail, making a left fluke and a right fluke.
  4. Cut your tail out so you can use it as a template.
  5. Trace the template on multiple sheets of copy paper. Then, using a marker, crayon or pencil, create a unique tail pattern within each tail outline. Here are some tips:
    • Use the images you found as inspiration.
    • Try creating blotches, shading or jagged lines representing the marks and scars that can sometimes be observed on whale flukes.
  6. If possible, photocopy your set of whale tails. To make it extra challenging, create additional copies of some of the tails. (If a photocopier is not available, you can sketch some duplicates of your tail patterns!)
  7. Mix up all of your tail images and ask a friend to find the matches. This is similar to what marine mammal researchers do to better understand the migration patterns and lives of humpback whales.
  8. Celebrate your success by going on a virtual whale watch or getting involved with local conservation efforts. No matter where we live, we all have a connection to the ocean!


What Are We Discovering?

There are many forms of technology that allow researchers to study the ocean. Some of this technology is directly related to underwater exploration, such as National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan’s Aqua-Lung and Hall of Famer Harold Froehlich’s submersible, Alvin.

Other forms of technology, which may be found in a laboratory or office, can be just as important to helping conduct research and share the findings. For example, NIHF Inductee Marian Croak’s patented communication technologies allow researchers to collaborate through video chat and conservationists to text their donations to ocean-related causes. In this activity, a photocopier could be used to create copies of the whale tails. Hall of Famer Robert Gundlach made photocopying technology more practical, flexible and affordable.

If you are passionate about the ocean and marine life, there are many different ways you can connect your passion to ocean innovation!


Looking for Even More STEM Fun? Check Out Camp Invention!

If your child enjoys STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities, they will love Camp Invention®, NIHF’s nationwide K-6 STEM summer camp! To learn more about this year’s brand-new program and to reserve your spot today, we invite you to visit our website.

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