Elephant Seals - Evolution


Bull at North BeachGeneral Description – The State of California maintains 280 state parks, of unique environmental, historical, and educational interest. One of these unique places is Año Nuevo State Reserve, home of the largest mainland rookery for northern elephant seals in the United States.

This unit of study introduces students to the evolutionary history and adaptations of the northern elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve.  Lessons One and Two are each one hour, in-class lessons that explore the habitat, behaviors, and adaptations of the northern elephant seal.  Lesson Three focuses on the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that help ensure the future of the elephant seal and other marine animals. The other lessons are optional and offer additional activities. Lessons can easily be used with lower grade levels. The highlight of the unit is a video conference between students and a park ranger. The ranger acts as a guide for a virtual tour of the rookery and discusses the evolutionary history and adaptations of elephant seals with students.

Click HERE to schedule this program

Academic Content Standard Subject Area: Science

Grade Level: 7th (adaptable for other grade levels)

Primary Common Core State Standards:
7th grade: RI.7.3, W.7.8, SL.7.1, SL.7.2, MP.5
9th-12th grade: WHST.9-12.9, RST.9-12.1, SL.9-12.2-6, MP.2

Primary Next Generation Science Standards
7th grade: MS-LS2-1, MS-LS2-2, MS-LS2-4, MS-LS2-5, MS-LS4-2
9th-12th grade: HS-LS2-2, HS-LS4-1, HS-LS4-2, HS-LS4-5, HS-LS4-6, HS-ESS3-4

Time required:
3 or more class periods of 50 minutes each
1 one hour video conference
Options for extension activities are provided

Through classroom lessons and participating in the videoconference, students will be able to:

  • Describe the habitat and behaviors of elephant seals.
  • Explain the types of adaptations required for a mammal to live in a marine environment.
  • Discuss the evolutionary history of the elephant seal, the role of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution, and the potential impact of the genetic bottleneck that resulted from the near extinction of the species.

Ed Haskell, Ph.D.  - 7th Grade Teacher, King City, California
Kalina Coco Noelle, LAUSD Learning Readiness Facilitator, Common Core Technology Project

This unit was written for, and tested on, 7th grade ELL students. It is easily extended to English proficient students, and notes throughout the text suggest modifications that can be used for English only classes, as well as high school classes or advanced middle school classes.