Back to School with Killer Whale Tales

“Kids Making a Difference Now” program with Killer Whale Tales inspires stewardship actions at home and in the community

Fall 2012

Close your eyes and imagine navigating the deep dark waters of Puget Sound as a young killer whale, guided by the calls of your family. Thousands of elementary students will hear this unusual request when they head back to school this fall. Through the eyes of a young whale from the endangered population that frequents Puget Sound, students will experience how killer whales feed, communicate with other whales, and travel the waterways they call home. Jeff Hogan, the force behind the interactive Killer Whale Tales program, has been introducing life as a killer whale to inquisitive students since 2000.   

students with orca skull

When the students open their eyes, they ask questions that allow them to make connections between the whales and their everyday lives. Through storytelling, students learn about the whales’ strong family ties and the threats they face. The mystery of these animals is further revealed as the kids ask an expert on killer whales questions about anything from whale belly buttons to why researchers collect their poop. The students also step into the shoes of a whale researcher—watching videos and recording the whales’ behavior, matching unique dorsal fin and saddle patch patterns to a field catalog, and listening to calls and matching the sounds to the right pod. A culminating part of the program asks students to consider what they’ve learned about the whales, and share their ideas about how to protect and conserve the whales and their habitats.  For all their energy and great ideas, the students are rewarded with orca trading cards.

But the impact of Killer Whale Tales doesn't end when Jeff leaves the classroom. After this engaging experience, students get an important homework assignment—a stewardship challenge.  The “Kids Making a Difference Now” homework packet asks students to evaluate their ecological footprint at home and empowers them to work with their families to reduce their impact not just for whales, but for the health of the entire ecosystem. By evaluating the use of electricity, water, and chemicals around the home, children understand that we are all stewards of the environment. Perhaps most importantly, students know they are making a difference because Jeff tracks their efforts. Each student receives a report on his or her individual contributions (e.g., reductions in water and power usage) and a summary of the classroom’s contributions for the entire year. The results show the children the true impact they are making for the whales and the environment. According to Jeff, “I wanted to give children a sense of what it was like to be both a researcher and a whale. I wanted the students to feel like they could do something tangible and become actively involved in the conservation of this now endangered species.”

Jeff Hogan in classroom

NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region partners with the Killer Whale Tales program to implement actions that help recover the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population and promote ocean literacy. Killer Whale Tales is aligned with state and national education standards and is popular with both teachers and students.

Registration is open for the 2012-2013 school year. To learn more about bringing Killer Whale Tales to a school near you, please visit: