Cetacean Investigation - Whales of the Mediterranean Sea - Teacher's Guide


Teachers Guide

TEACHER'S GUIDE- "Mediterranean - The Sea in the Middle of the Earth" (Part 1)

Documentary Overview

This is the first of a five-part series called "Whales of the Mediterranean Sea". In this episode, earthOCEAN explore the geology, and oceanographic history of the ancient Mediterranean Sea. They discover the species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) inhabiting the basin, talk with the scientists who work for the conservation of the species and their various habitats.

The Program

  • Explores the 300 million year geological history of the movement of continental plates, and how this led to the formation of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Explains the unique oceanography of this isolated sea, discussing why it gave rise to distinct species of flora and fauna.
  • Discovers the large and small cetacean species (whales and dolphins) that arrived in this new sea from the North Atlantic Ocean.
  • Describes how the public views these animals, highlighting the overall lack of awareness about their presence.
  • Explores the diverse and ancient human culture that arose around the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, and their connection to cetaceans.
  • Discusses how the relationship between humans and cetaceans is changing, leaving the future uncertain.
  • Introduces some of the scientists in the Mediterranean who are studying and working to learn more about these animals.
  • Explains how in only a century, industrialization has caused cetacean species to become excessively polluted.
  • Expresses the need for cooperation and understanding between science, communities and the media in bringing the story of these unique Mediterranean cetaceans to the forefront.

Viewing Ideas

Before Viewing:

  1. Talk with students about the movement of continental plates, and how their slow shifting has formed the world we recognize today.
    • Discuss the 300 million year old super continent - Pan Gaea and the ancient Tethy's Sea.
    • Help students locate the Mediterranean Sea on a world map and discuss its unique features, including how it got its name.
    • Look at a map of the world and discuss the distribution of cetaceans globally, and how they have evolved to exploit a range of geographically isolated habitats.
  2. Advise students to consider the following questions as they watch the video.
    • How did the movement of continents lead to the creation of the Mediterranean Sea?
    • How do oceanographic conditions differ for the cetaceans in this sea, compared to those in the Atlantic Ocean?
    • How many species are resident in the Mediterranean Sea?
    • How have cetaceans taken advantage of the creation of the Mediterranean Sea, and what distinguishes these sub-populations?
    • How does awareness about cetaceans differ between interest groups in the region?
    • What issues arise from the lack of awareness about cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea, and what are the implications for these animals?
    • How could current pressures on cetacean populations be addressed?

After Viewing:

  • Begin a class discussion. Ask students how they think cetaceans have adapted to life in the geographically isolated Mediterranean Sea? Has evolution equipped them to cope with the increasing man-made pressures? How can science contribute to our understanding of the ecology of the Mediterranean Sea?

Classroom Activity


Utilize science and information technology to investigate cetacean species in geographically isolated regions, such as the semi-enclosed Mediterranean Sea.


  • Computer (Depending on accessibility, students can work independently, in pairs or groups.)
  • Internet access.
  • Cetacean Habitat Handout. Download PDF.
  • Factsheet - view online or print.


  1. Cetaceans have adapted to exploit most marine habitats worldwide. In isolated regions, genetically distinct species or sub-populations have evolved. In this activity, students are going to select and investigate a cetacean species that is resident to a geographically isolated marine habitat. This may include a semi-enclosed sea, such as the Black, or Red Sea, a shallow coastal environment, or riverine habitat such as the Amazon or the Ganges Rivers.
  2. Depending on computer access, organize students individually, in pairs or small groups. (If students work in pairs or groups, the results of the investigation should be more detailed.) Provide each student, or group with a copy of Cetacean Habitat Handout.
  3. Have students conduct online research and select a cetacean species or genetically isolated sub-population of interest to them.
  4. From their research, students will develop an understanding of the role and influence of geographic isolation and oceanographic conditions on shaping their chosen species or sub-population. They will also include the scientific research being conducted, pressures exerted on the habitat and the degree of public awareness.
  5. Students will share findings with the rest of the group through a short presentation or poster.

Activity Answer:

Students use what they learned about the cetaceans of the Mediterranean Sea as a catalyst in investigating another geographically isolated marine region of the world's seas and oceans. By selecting a region and a resident species of cetacean, students see the connectedness between the evolution of a species, geographic isolation, and their associated vulnerability. This technology-based activity promotes a wider appreciation and understanding of the role of geographic isolation and the associated oceanographic conditions, on the movement and evolution of unique cetacean species and sub-populations. This program can be used as the first component of the five-part series, or as an isolated activity. Related Resources



  • "Whales & Dolphins of the World." Author - Mark Simmons
    2004. MIT Press.
  • "Marine Protected Areas for Whales Dolphins & Porpoises." Author - Erich Hoyt.
    2005 Earthscan.
  • "The Mediterranean, Underwater Perspectives."? Author - A. Frantzis.
    Koan Publishing House. Athens, Greece. 1999.
  • "Guide to Marine Mammals of the World." National Audubon Society.

Classroom Application

The "Sea in the Middle of the Earth" Activity program is specifically directed at Grades 9 - 12 biology, geography, oceanography, environmental education, and IT studies. Lateral thinking allows activities encompassing whales and dolphins to link into a wide range of secondary curriculum areas. An awareness of other animals, particularly the study of charismatic keynote species, is crucial for students to learn about the issues involved in conservation and how the choices we make affect the world around us. Learning about the lives of other animals changes our 'world view', fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages action. The topic of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) fits most obviously into the science learning area. However, there is ample opportunity to incorporate cetaceans into the geography, English and art frameworks.

Genevieve Johnson has taught middle and high school students in the area of Environmental Education for over 12 years. She has also spent five years as a cetacean field researcher on an around the world science and education expedition. As well as teaching in a classroom, Genevieve designed the 'Class from the Sea' and 'Ocean Encounters' programs, designing curriculum and linking with students around the globe from the research vessel.

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