1 x 2m x 4m wooden platform which is balanced on a lower/centred beam (fulcrum)
Platform designs vary but the activity generally involves 12 to 15 participants. There are limits to the maximum weight any platform can support so it is important not to exceed these limits. If you are unsure, check with a qualified challenge course vendor.
Be an active spotter at all times, ie this is generally regarded as a self-spotting exercise.
Offer support to all group members both physically (spotting) and emotionally (supporting and contributing.)
Agree to keep hands and feet clear from the area where the platform touches the ground and where the platform balances on the centre beam.
Agree to stand at least 30cm back from the platform when not standing on the platform.
Agree to always step on and off the lowest end of the platform, ie it is generally not recommended to access the platform from the sides.
Agree not to jump off the platform to regain balance.
Practical Leadership Tips
Caution your group that the platform can hit the ground suddenly at either end.
If required, you can lay a boundary rope around the perimeter of the platform, about 30cm back, to guide your group to keep clear of the platform. Instruct your group that they cannot cross the boundary unless they are stepping on/off the platform.
There is a slight chance that some people may topple off the platform. To this end, be sure to clear the area of all obstructions at least 3 metres around the platform.
Typically, most groups do not require spotters to support those who are stepping on or off the platform, but introduce them as required. Note, as facilitator, you can serve this role if necessary.
The Whale Watch requires a certain level of precision, so the requirement to always start over when the platform touches the ground can be onerous. An alternative penalty would be to tally the number of times the platform touches the ground during your group’s attempt, with a view towards continuous improvement.
Sitting down (to limit movement) is allowed provided no part of a participant’s body dangles over the platform’s edge, eg dangling feet over the entry and exit points.
You could integrate Whale Watch as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The complexities of this fun group initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with one another in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
Generally speaking, how did the group make decisions? How were all members involved?
Describe your group’s goal-setting process?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of the group’s success? How?
Were there moments of accountability or safety that concerned you? What’s an example?
Balance is always difficult to achieve in the Whale Watch, especially when there are many moving parts (participants.) Hence, there are many lessons to be learned in this exercise in regards to persistence, trial and error and failure. Invite your group to reflect on those factors that distracted or assisted them to remain focused on the task. If it helps, ask your group to identify in advance of commencing the task what would help them to be successful.
All Aboard: Start with your group standing on the ground and the platform balanced (with the ends off the ground,) challenge your whole group to get on the platform. In this instance, it is possible for one or more people to stand with one foot on the opposite end of the platform (with the other on the ground) to counter-weight the person attempting to step onto the platform.
One-Touch: The task starts with one end of the platform sitting on the ground, acting as an on-ramp for the group to step up onto. This (initial) touch is the only touch permitted to achieve successful balance with the whole group standing on the platform.
Whale Watch Swapsies: Position half of your group on each end of the platform. Once the platform is balanced, invite each half of the team to swap sides, of course, without the platform touching the ground.
Around The World: Form a circle standing on the platform. Once the platform is balanced, invite your group to rotate their position up to 360 degrees without the platform touching the ground.
One By One: Starting with one person straddling the centre of the balanced platform, add one person at a time to the platform while preventing it from touching the ground. Continue until all members of the group have exited the platform.
Reverse One By One: Start with the whole group on a balanced platform and invite one participant at a time to get off until only one member remains.
Minimum Touches: Starting with a balanced platform, challenge your group to travel over the platform from one end to the other with the platform touching the ground as few times as possible. Note, two touches are the maximum so one or no touches is the goal.
Moby Deck: Involves the use of a platform that is balanced on a fulcrum positioned in the very centre of the platform, allowing the platform to move and swivel in any direction.
Universal Whale Watch: Position access ramps up to and raised rails on the long edges of the platform to enable people in a wheelchair to participate.
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Useful Framing Ideas
In the days when whales were caught for food and oil, it was necessary to make rudimentary cuts to the whale’s carcass while it lay inside the ship’s hull after it was harpooned. As you could imagine. this task was extremely dangerous because the skin was not only slippery but the boat moved all the time on the water. In an effort to keep an eye on these brave fishermen, other crew members were assigned as ‘whale watchers’ to keep an eye on their mate’s safety and welfare. I’d like you to imagine that the platform you see here is akin to the hull of a whaling vessel…
How good is your balance? It depends, right? Standing on two feet is under control but maybe sliding down a snowy mountain with two sticks stuck to the end of your feet and, suddenly, all bets are off. Well, imagine now if you could combine your collective sense of balance into one activity…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this challenging group initiative:
What did you notice about your planning process? Was there any planning conducted?
Did anything surprise you during the exercise? What was the consequence?
What was necessary to help your group succeed at this task?
Describe your biggest challenge? How did your group overcome it?
How might this exercise teach us something about balance in our work and lives?
The inspiration for the Whale Watch is generally unknown but was popularised during the development of Project Adventure‘s adventure-based curriculum in the early 1990s.