Skip to content

Marine Mammals In Our Backyard

marine mammals in our backyard


All mammals: breathe air, give birth to live young, nurse their young, are warm-blooded, and have hair (baby whales and dolphins actually have small hairs on their rostrums (nose) when born and it eventually sheds away leaving behind small follicles). Marine mammals have a range or territory where you can expect to find them and many species migrate over long distances each year. Some whales feed in polar waters, and travel thousands of miles to warm water areas to have their young.

In this lesson, students will learn to distinguish mammals from other animals and then separate marine mammals from other mammals. They will discuss what constitutes their "backyard" and how that compares to the "backyard" of a North Atlantic right whale. They will learn about the species of cetaceans (whale, dolphin, porpoise) and pinnipeds (seal, sea lion, walrus) that can be found off Cape Cod and experiment with marine mammal photo identification. They will discover how humans impact the marine environment and marine mammals in their local area and what they can do to make a difference.

Lesson Plans


Lesson Plan

Lesson Slides

Grades 3-5

Lesson Plan

Lesson Slides


Activity Sheets/Handouts

Right Whale ID Activity

Right Whale ID Activity ANSWER KEY

Dichotomous Key Pictures

Dichotomous Key Activity


This lesson meets the following Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Grades K-2:
    1. K-ESS3-1 - Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live. This lesson uses google earth to illustrate how the students meet their needs and how local marine mammal species cover a larger geographic area to meet their needs.
    2. 1-LS3-1 - Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents. In this lesson students discover how individual North Atlantic right whales can be photo identified by comparing their callosity patterns.
    3. 2-LS4-1 - Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. In this lesson students compare the species found in their "backyard" (both aquatic and terrestrial).
  • Grades 3-5:
    1. 3-LS3-1 - Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms. In this lesson students discover how individual North Atlantic right whales can be photo identified by comparing their callosity patterns.
    2. 5-ESS3-1 - Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. In this lesson students participate in North Atlantic right whale photo id and discover how this monitoring is critical to this endangered species' recovery.

Additional Resources

NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center

This program is a collaboration between the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Woods Hole Sea Grant.

Scientist Spotlight

Alsion HenryAllison Henry
Research Fishery Biologist
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Allison is part of the North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) Aerial Survey Team and helps maintain the NARW photo identification catalog.

Michael MooreMichael Moore 
Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Michael is a whale veterinarian. He is also the director of the WHOI Marine Mammal Center and has worked extensively on North Atlantic right whale recovery efforts.