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What Are You Blubbering About?

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Baby Beluga may swim in the deep blue sea, but the song does not mention how cold it is out there! Find out in this science project how a bit of blubber can be a useful adaptation when the water is ice cold. Brrrr!


Areas of Science
Time Required
Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)
No issues

Sara Agee, PhD, Science Buddies

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Test whether or not a layer of blubber is a helpful adaptation for cold-water environments.


Do you ever wonder what makes each species of animal unique? Where does all of the diversity of life on this planet come from? The key to this puzzle is called evolution, which is the process by which groups of organisms change over time, from generation to generation, leading to the development of new species. The key to evolution is a process called natural selection, sometimes referred to as "survival of the fittest." Natural selection presents a challenge to all the different types in a population, allowing those who overcome the challenge and reproduce, to pass on useful traits to their descendants, which increases that population's fitness and survival.

Evolution and natural selection were first proposed by Charles Darwin. While on a long voyage on a ship named the HMS Beagle, he was able to observe and document many useful traits, called adaptations, of animals he saw. An adaptation is a trait that comes in handy when an organism has to deal with a challenge. Adaptations take many generations to appear in a population, but the results are worth it. Many of the changes that lead to an adaptation are random, but natural selection picks through and determines which adaptations will continue from generation to generation.

To experience some adaptations that have increased the fitness of an organism, act out the three behaviors below:

Adaptations are all around you, and once you start to notice them, you just can't stop! In this science project, you will investigate an important adaptation for marine mammals, called blubber, a layer of fat beneath the skin that is used as insulation and keeps the body warm in cold temperatures. Blubber is commonly found in mammals that have adapted to life in a cold-water environment, like whales, seals, sea lions, and polar bears. Blubber is a thick layer of fat (adipose) tissue. Animals store extra digested food in the form of adipose tissue. Because adipose tissue does not transfer heat as well as other tissues and materials, it can insulate an animal's body. For example, Styrofoam is another material that does not transfer heat relatively well, while metals, for example, transfer heat very well. This is why hot drinks are often served in Styrofoam, as it keeps the heat inside the cup, preventing your hands from being burned. You will use a layer of shortening on your skin to model the adaptation of blubber. Will the extra layer of fat help you stay in the cold longer?

Terms and Concepts



The original source of this project is the San Diego Zoo: At Kimball's Biology Pages you can read about evolution and adaptation: You can also learn about evolution and adaptation from the "Understanding Evolution" website, a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education:

This website offers help with creating graphs:

  • National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved August 27, 2008.

Materials and Equipment

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Experimental Procedure

  1. Fill two bowls with cold water and ice cubes.
  2. Measure the temperature of the water with a thermometer. When the temperature levels off, the bowls are ready. Write down the temperature of the water in your lab notebook in a data table like Table 1 below.
Water Bowl Water Temperature (°Celsius) Covered Finger Time (sec) Uncovered Finger Time (sec)
Table 1. You can write your results down in your lab notebook using a table like this one.
  1. Cover the pointer finger on one hand with a thick layer of shortening.
  2. Have your partner prepare the stopwatch, and when he or she says go, put the pointer finger of each hand into one of the bowls of ice water.
  3. Have your partner time how long you can leave each finger in the bowl, and write the results in a data table.
  4. Wait until your fingers return to their normal color, then repeat steps 3–5 two times and average your results.
  5. Switch partners and repeat steps 2–6.
  6. Repeat the entire experiment with warm water. Predict whether you think you will see the same result.
  7. Calculate your result averages and make a bar graph of your average results.
    1. On the vertical axis (the y-axis), put the time (in seconds), and on the horizontal axis (the x-axis) make four bars, one for each of the following results: Average time in the ice-cold water with a covered finger; Average time in the ice-cold water with an uncovered finger; Average time in the warm water with a covered finder; Average time in the warm water with an uncovered finger.
    2. You can make the bar graph by hand or use a website like Create a Graph to make the graph on the computer and print it.
  8. Analyze your results and try to draw some conclusions. In which environment did the adaptation give a significant advantage?
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Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Global Connections

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

This project explores topics key to Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.


Can you model other types of adaptations to show how they increase fitness? Here are some ideas:

  • Plants - Some plants have waxy leaves, and some have regular leaves. Waxy leaves are common in plants that live in dry environments, and keep the plant from losing water. You can model the waxy coating of a leaf by covering a moist sponge with a layer of shortening. Will an uncovered sponge dry out before a covered sponge? Do waxy leaves resist drying out better than regular leaves?
  • Long tails - animals with long tails often use them for balance. Make a model of a rat, monkey or other animal with a long tail. Can you use a balance test on your model to find out if the tail adds stability?
  • Big ears - Animals that are nocturnal, or spend most of their wake hours at night, often have big ears. Can you do an experiment with ear cones to show how this adaptation can increase hearing ability? Why would this be useful for an animal that hunts at night?
  • Webbed feet - Try the Science Buddies Experiment The Swimming Secrets of Duck Feet to see if duck feet can help you swim faster.


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "What Are You Blubbering About?" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p044/zoology/animal-blubber. Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). What Are You Blubbering About? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Zoo_p044/zoology/animal-blubber

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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