Educators and scientists at the Alaska SeaLife Center have teamed up to bring you a new and unique teaching tool. "Watching Walrus" is a virtual field trip (VFT) designed to introduce students to the process of designing a scientific research plan. Throughout this exploration, students watch videos, examine images, and read fact sheets as they follow real-life scientists into the wilds of Alaska to study Pacific walrus populations.
This VFT can be used in a number of ways. Individuals may choose to navigate through the slides independently, learning about Pacific walrus and why changes in Arctic climate have scientists concerned about these animals. Self-guided exploration can be completed in under an hour. Alternately, teachers may wish to facilitate a structured experience using the curriculum supplements.
Overview for Teachers
Grade Level: 5th-8th
Time needed: 6-8 one-hour class periods
Nutshell: Students will gain experience designing a scientific research plan while learning about an actual research project that studies Pacific walrus in Alaska.
After completing this virtual field trip, students will be able to:
- Describe how the research plan they develop meets the objectives set out by Alaska SeaLife Center scientists
- Explain how Arctic animals, like Pacific walrus, may be impacted by decreased availability of sea ice
- Locate geographic features of the Arctic and subarctic oceans using a world map
Pacific walrus are a marine mammal species native to the Bering and Chukchi Sea area between Alaska and Russia. A member of the pinniped (fin-footed) family, walrus are ocean bottom feeders that can weigh up to one and a half tons. Walrus live along the continental shelf where water is shallow and food resources are plentiful. Floating sea ice provides females and calves with access to varied food resources, protection from predators, and isolation from disease. Though walrus are a social, gregarious species (males are known to haul-out together in large numbers), females with calves usually stay separate from the herd, depending on sea ice for their haulouts.
As a consequence of warming Arctic climate, scientists have observed that sea ice in the Arctic Region is shrinking. This means decreased habitat for Pacific walrus, particularly for vulnerable segments of the population like females with calves. As a result of these changes in habitat, walrus have been observed hauling out on land in numbers rarely seen before. Not only does this make populations more susceptible to disease, predation, and depletion of food resources, it also means moms and calves are living in large herds rather than in small groups or pairs.
Walrus are known to abandon a haulout upon disturbance (e.g., by the presence of boats, people, predators). In such cases, walrus move quickly from land into water when they are on ice. As walrus are observed gathering in large groups (as many as 14,000 walrus have been observed hauling out together) scientists are concerned about the increased consequences of such disturbances. Instances of stampede have been recorded, including that at Icy Cape (described in Watching Walrus), leaving hundreds of animals dead. Such events led scientists at the Alaska SeaLife Center to begin research observing Pacific walrus. Their intention is to increase the understanding of what causes these animals to abandon a haulout. They are particularly interested in how the patterns in walrus response differ between established land haulout outs and newly emergent ones.
The research of lead Marine Mammal Scientist Dr. Lori Polasek, Marine Mammal Research Associate Jill Prewitt, and Research Coordinator Terril Efird inspired this virtual field trip. Join us as we explore some of Alaska’s most remote coastline and work to learn more about how sea ice loss is impacting Pacific walrus.
Throughout their exploration of Watching Walrus, students will engage in discussions, make observations, complete a research ma,p and design their own research plan for observing walrus as they use land haulouts.
To use this virtual field trip you will need:
- Internet access, video-streaming capabilities
- Access to Watching Walrus the virtual field trip
- Projection system (with audio) to display VFT content or a computer lab
- Teacher guide and corresponding curriculum supplements (arranged as PDFs in the right hand column of this page)
Specials Notes to Teachers:
Guide to State & National Standards addressed in this field trip (Click to download .pdf)
Using the Virtual Field Trip
Teachers may choose to have the class navigate through Watching Walrus as one large group, using a projection system to display content, or have students work independently in a computer lab setting. All activities included in the curriculum supplements work best in a classroom setting with tables arranged into small groups.
Using Curriculum Supplements
We encourage teachers to read through the Teacher’s Guide and all Curriculum Supplements before beginning Watching Walrus with your students. Some projects, like the Research Map, will be completed over the course of this exploration.
Videos and PDFs
Many sections of Watching Walrus include embedded videos and .pdf documents. Teachers may elect to print class sets of the .pdfs or use them digitally. All .pdf files are 1-2 pages long. Most videos are less than 3 minutes long (exact durations can be found in the description of each video). Video transcripts can be accessed by clicking the video transcript button below each clip.
Important vocabulary terms are included in the VOCABULARY box in the lower right-hand corner of each section. A complete glossary of terms is included as a .pdf in the FOR TEACHERS section.
This virtual field trip is designed to meet Alaska state and National science content for students in grades 5-8. We understand that students in grades 5-8 may display a variety of skill sets and reading levels; therefore, this grade distinction is designed only as a guideline. The scientific process discussed in this virtual field trip is appropriate for and may be enjoyed by older students, as well. Older students may progress through this virtual field trip at a faster rate than that outlined above.
Walrus Natural History
For an overview of Pacific walrus facts, and information on other Alaskan marine mammals:
Wynne, Kate. Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, 2007.
For more information on Alaska marine invertebrates, including those predated by Pacific walrus:
Field, Carmen M., and Conrad J. Field. Alaska's Seashore Creatures: a Guide to Selected Marine Invertebrates. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1999.
For more information about the Bering Sea region:
Johnson, Terry Lee. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: Region of Wonders. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, 2003.
If you have any questions about this virtual field trip, please contact the Alaska SeaLife Center Education Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-224-6306. For more information on classes we offer, including our inquiry-based 50-minute Distance Learning programs, visit our website at www.alaskasealife.org.