Introduction of Explore the Salish Sea

Killer Whale Task Force

J 50 “Scarlet,” with her mom, J 16 “Slick” in 2015. Photo by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

J 50 “Scarlet,” with her mom, J 16 “Slick” in 2015. Photo by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

Killer Whale Taskforce goes with the Introduction of Explore the Salish Sea, A Nature Guide for Kids. It also sets the main Essential Question for the entire set of Explore the Salish Sea curriculum, pointing out that we have a unique, rich, and fragile jewel in our own neighborhood: the Salish Sea, but this jewel needs our attention and action if the top predator in these waters is facing extinction. If we are to turn the fate of our southern resident killer whales around, we need to get to know our neighbors and their ecosystems and launch heart- and science-based stewardship actions.

Join the elegance of place-based science as we get wet, ask questions, make hands-on observations, and solve both mysteries and problems on our way to becoming “Salish Sea Heroes.” Let Explore the Salish Sea serve as a guide, a source of wonder and inspiration, and a springboard for learning about ecosystems through the lens of the Salish Sea.

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The Explore the Salish Sea Curriculum is a compilation of the lesson and activity ideas of experts around the Sea. We will continue to build and revise with the generous input of Marine Educators and Classroom Teachers like you. Please share ideas and resources with our Education Coordinator, Mira, at

NOTE: For all links to documents, click the link or button and then find the download option in the upper right corner of the new screen.

By downloading this curriculum, I agree to complete the educator surveys and pre- and post-assessments with my students.

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The Unit Plan is here to provide direction, resources, and standards for guiding the lessons, activities, games, and research that introduce the overarching question. This plan includes Learning Targets and Success Criteria, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) addressed, a framework for instructional flow, links to all resources (websites, articles, activity/game instructions, and more) referenced in the plans, estimated time for each content item, and the materials needed for exploring.

  • *NOTE: All materials in this unit are offered in formats that you can revise to suit your needs.

  • Choose what you’d like to use, add your content to slideshows, student journals, and more.

  • Just be sure to follow a logical flow, as described in this great NGSS article:



This is your students’ place to wonder, record observations, take notes, diagram, and plan and record scientific investigation or engineering processes. It is also a place to celebrate hard work with well-deserved stamps on the back page. Print this journal in color in booklet format on 8.5 x 14 paper, center fold with 2 staples, if possible.



Use these PowerPoint slides with video and resource links as an aid to help guide, but not dominate, your lessons. Feel free to modify content and add or remove slides to best fit your learning progression.



Gauge pre-existing Salish Sea knowledge and interest with this brief quiz BEFORE introducing your students to Explore the Salish Sea A Nature Guide for Kids. This link is to an online survey. If you would like to have results for individual students, download and print the document in the button below. When your students finish using Explore the Salish Sea, you’ll administer the final post-assessment. Share a summary of student results with SeaDoc at



Give your students a visual or sensory experience that provides a chance to wonder at the Salish Sea or a particular aspect of it. For chapters 1-8, this will be a hands-on outdoor activity, an observational field trip, or an in-classroom presentation or video. For the introduction, let the students experience their new book to spark wonder. Give it out, have them write their names in the “This book belongs to_” stamp or sticker you’ve provided, and let them explore the vibrant pages of their very own book about the sea. We suggest the book stays safe in class until they take it home at the end of the year.

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After students experience the book freeform, it is time to give a Taskforce! Student Journal to each person. Have students read the book Introduction: Welcome to the Salish Sea. Here is a time to write (Journal p. 1) their thoughts, ideas, and questions inspired by their reading. After students have read and written, invite an open discussion with the class. Near the end of this discussion, ask what the students know about our resident orca population and their endangered status. Guide them to develop an overarching essential question for their Salish Sea explorations, and steer it to be about the health of these killer whales. Each chapter will address aspects of the ecosystem that ultimately support the health of the whales, and of us humans, as well.



Once you have established an essential question, information-gathering begins. The Explore the Salish Sea book is a great place to start, there are some additional resources in the link below and in the slideshow, and you may find many more of your own. Of course, you’ll come back to this step throughout the process, as your questions and claims will require support.

Southern Resident Killer Whale eating a Chinook salmon. An adult needs 385 lbs of salmon per day.

Southern Resident Killer Whale eating a Chinook salmon. An adult needs 385 lbs of salmon per day.


Clicking on the button to the left will lead to a file with links to background info. Close/ignore any pop-ups for Box sign-in.



In chapters 1-8, your students will conduct hands-on research. For the Introduction, they will learn from existing research then simulate the Working Groups of the Governor-appointed Southern Killer Whale Taskforce to understand the current issues causing the SRKW to be endangered then make recommendations for their recovery. Find resources in the Taskforce! Slideshow and Student Journal.



This is a crucial part of the scientific process. It is the part where the results of all your hard work can make a difference. Your research can equal a difference in the choices a few citizens make each day to help the sea or a new bill that changes the way our whole state or province helps the whales. The preferred option for the Taskforce! unit is to write a letter to your Legislators. See the video in the button below and use the Taskforce! Slideshow and Student Journals for support. There are many bills being considered currently, so this is a very timely science-based stewardship action.