Science In Pajamas: How Arctic Animals Stay Warm

Have you ever wondered how marine mammals stay warm in icy waters? Animals like seals and whales have a layer of blubber, which is extra thick body fat that insulates the the body. It also helps block out excess heat from the sun, useful when a seal wants to rest on ice before diving back into the water.

You can see the effects of blubber yourself with this experiment.

What you’ll need:

  • Bowl

  • Water

  • Ice cubes

  • Spoon

  • Solid vegetable shortening (ex. Crisco)

  • 2 plastic bags

  • Large rubber band


1. Fill the bowl three quarters of the way with water and ice cubes. This will serve as your mini Arctic Ocean.

2. Put two to three large scoops of the vegetable shortening in a plastic bag. Put your hand in the other empty bag, and then insert it into the “shortening” bag. (This is so you don’t touch the shortening yourself). Use the rubber band to secure the two bags around your wrist. Use your other hand to squeeze the outer bag, moving the shortening to cover your hand and fingers.

3. Now you can submerge your fingers in the ice water, and see the effects take place.

Do you feel the cold? Your hand is staying toasty because, like blubber, the shortening packed around it prevents your body heat from escaping, and at the same time, seals out the cold of the ice water.

Resources and References:

  • Littlefield, Cindy A. Awesome Ocean Science: Investigating the Secrets of the Underwater World. Williamson Books, 2006.

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