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Optional Lessons

The third and fourth lessons are optional and involve student projects. Each project concentrates on one of the many adaptations of elephant seals: elephant seals migrate farther than any other mammal, have adapted to life at near-freezing temperatures, are able to dive as deep (if not deeper) than any other marine mammal, never require a drink of water, can go for months without eating, etc. These lessons were originally developed by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association (

Optional days 3 and 4 involve a class project adhering to the lesson plans “Discovering Northern Elephant Seals: How Are Elephant Seals Adapted to Their Environment?”.  This class project examines elephant seal adaptations to a marine environment, including: fasting, concentrated urine, energy from fat, thermoregulation, chest shields, big noses/proboscis, delayed implantation, female choices in mating, vocalizations, and molting, black pup fur, sleep apnea/breath holding, and locomotion.

Students will create posters or skits based on specific adaptive characteristics of elephant seals. 

This exercise can be modified for high school classes or advanced middle school classes by allowing students to prepare PowerPoint presentations for the class. If this is the case, the lessons could be scheduled  to give students considerably more time to complete their projects.

Handouts (copied from the pdf materials below), poster paper, scissors, drawing supplies. 

Pre-Trip Lesson Plan Two

Adaptation Note-Taking Guide 40 KB pdf
Adaptation Cards 64 KB pdf
Vocabulary List 16 KB pdf

  1. Lead a discussion of the types of adaptations students came up with in lesson one.  Do they think elephant seals actually have most of those adaptations? Elephant seals probably have even more amazing adaptations than the ones they came up with.
  2. There are a total of 15 Elephant Seal Adaptation Cards. Divide students into teams so that all of the adaptations are distributed. Each team receives an adaptation card, a note-taking guide and poster paper.
  3. Students research the adaptation and develop posters or skits based on their adaptation card.
    (see pdf notes for further instructions)

Included in lesson plan pdf documents.

Discovering Northern Elephant Seals (1.93 MB)
The 158 page "Discovering Northern Elephant Seals" is the entire elephant seal Curriculum Guide. It covers everything from pre-trip activities through post-trip projects. Teacher's masters and student worksheets are included as well as background material. This one file contains all of the material contained in the following, smaller, NPS documents. However, you may find it easier to work with some of the smaller files.
Pre-Trip Lesson Plan One
This web page describes the lesson "How Can I Learn about the Secret Lives of Elephant Seals". The following PDF files are materials for the lesson.
Elephant Seal Newspaper (580 KB)
The information in this newspaper is the basis for student pre-trip activity sheets.
Teacher Masters (76 KB)
These teacher masters let you act like you "knew it all along" for the following activities.
Pre and Post Evaluations (44 KB)
Evaluate student knowledge before and after the activities and presentation.
The Secret Lives of Elephant Seals Student Activity Sheet (52 KB)
This one page, pre-trip, student activity sheet is completed after reading the Elephant Seal Newspaper.
Wild Wonders of the Deep (48 KB)
This two page, pre-trip, student activity sheet is completed after reading the Elephant Seal Newspaper.
Worth Versus Value (60 KB)
This two page, pre-trip, student activity sheet is also completed after reading the Elephant Seal Newspaper.
Pre-Trip Lesson Plan Two
This web page describes the lesson "How Are Elephant Seals Adapted to Their Environment". The following PDF files are materials for the lesson.
Adaptation Note-Taking Guide (40 KB)
Used in conjunction with the following adaptation cards.
Adaptation Cards (64 KB)
Cut these sheets up to make cards listing elephant seal adaptations.
Vocabulary List (32 KB Word Doc)
Words used in both lessons.