Niagara Gazette

May 9, 2014

Shark bait -- dogfish dissection draws a crowd to Lew-Port science club

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Sometimes it’s the ooey and gooey things in life that get the most attention, especially when it concerns those of middle school students.

There was no exception Thursday afternoon in the halls of Lewiston-Porter middle, where about 30 students, both male and female, gathered to take in and be part of a different type of biology lesson. They ranged in grade level and scientific experience, but with an Aquarium of Niagara employee about to slice into a deceased dogfish shark the intrigue turned out to be more than enough to pique their curiosity.

Rick Sweeney, a social studies teacher and advisor to the Science and Nature Club at the school, bought the shark for the live dissection and was able to secure the services of Aquarist Ben Brownstein to perform the honors.

“I thought it would be something the kids could get excited about,” he said, explaining he has a family connection to the aquarium and was actually waiting for one of its marine animals to die before being forced to make the purchase as a secondary plan.

“They said they do autopsies all the time,” he said. “But we didn’t have any luck. So I thought about what animal would be the most interesting to the students. There was the shark, an octopus and others. The shark was the best choice, I think.”

It certainly drew a crowd large enough to justify his purchase. He said he has about eight or nine regulars who come out to all of the club’s events. So for more than 30 to show up means the club, which promoted the dissection with flyers throughout the school for weeks, was able to reach those who normally wouldn’t consider attending.

The children also appreciated the presentation, with comments like “It was cool,” and “Amazing,” expressed frequently after the 30-minute presentation finished.

Brownstein took them through much of the shark’s biology, explaining how their circulation, digestive and reproductive systems work before finely working his scalpel to reveal the inner workings. The shark he was working with was actually pregnant when it died with four young still in its womb.

It sounds gross, but the babies received the most attention from the humans in the room when the audience was permitted to approach the head table and physically handle the subject.

“I really liked the baby sharks and seeing the teeth,” sixth-grade student Jack Dunn said, after explaining he hadn’t seen anything like the dissection except through virtual tours the computers have that includes a frog autopsy.

For Brownstein, the event was also a first. He’d never gone into a classroom to perform a dissection before. It turned out to be a learning experience for everyone in the room.

“I’m glad people go to see it,” he said. “It allows them to get hands on.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.