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The Clipboard Corner

November at Aquarium School

There are sharks in Boston!

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And I don't just mean in in the financial district! ;) They also reside inside the New England Aquarium (three in the giant tank) and, as we learned, they're outside too - just beyond the craggy coast of our capital city!

It was a fascinating class in which we learned all about these amazing and often misunderstood fish. Lots of hands-on activities, a slide show and talk from two shark experts and, a real-live (or dead, as it were) shark dissection!*

(*Now, I have pictures of that too -because, believe or not, I watched - but so as not to offend any of my readers, who probably don't expect to see fish guts when they open my blog, I placed those particular shots in a photo album parked over there on the righthand sidebar (see Shark Dissection). Please be warned - these are graphic pictures of the insides of a dog shark. Don't look if you don't want to!)

So I must point out that I begin once again with that quintessential Boston shot above. It is the first thing we see when we step out of the parking garage and today we remarked upon how different it appeared from the earlier autumn months. Yesterday was a typical November day for Boston - drizzly and gray, the fog rolling in off the harbor ...

As we arrived a bit early for class we walked about the docks, looking out at the misty gray waters half expecting to see a dorsal fin sticking up in the distance. We didn't see that of course, but we did spy some interesting boats.

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It has also become our habit to stop over at the harbor seal tank to say hello to our favorite pinnipeds.

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Before we knew it, it was time for class! Bookworm headed into the older kids' class with his friends and I followed Crackerjack into the younger group's room. (As I've mentioned before, the classes follow the same curriculum with variations, of course, due to age level.)

CJ's classroom was set up with some interesting work stations designed to give the kids a feel for the shark's point of view ...

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This box allowed the children to peer through two sets of goggles - the top one representing the human view deep underwater (dark and murky) and the bottom set showing us how sharks are able to see (much more clearly). This underwater vision enables them to hunt their food with relative ease.

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In the sunlight however, we'd have the sharks beaten by a mile (more or less). Donning these sunglasses and peering at the chart (which appeared quite blurry) gave us a good idea of how a shark would see things in shallow sun-filtered water ... it was very hard to distinguish between things like seals and people on surfboards.

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We then observed shark jaws ...

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Some of an enormous size:

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This jaw belonged to a Mako shark, one of our most common New England sharks.

And there were all kinds of things to explore including shark skin and egg cases ...

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... including skate pods, otherwise, and rather eloquently, known as mermaid's purses:

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An experiment showed us how sharks are able to stay afloat - not with air balloons as do most fish, but with oil:

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Hard to see above here, but those are two pouches filled with oil (one) and air (the other). Oil may not float as well as air, but it does indeed float. (As anyone who has baked or cooked pasta knows.) 

The kids were allowed to sift through a pile of shark teeth ... and try to match them up with identification cards.

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This one tooth, as large as this little girl's hand, belonged to a prehistoric shark called a Megalodon!

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There were earphones designed to "hear" as sharks hear:

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And a box that checked to see if we humans are electric (we are!):

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Crackerjack and his friends did some sketching and note-taking as class got underway ...

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Here's a picture of the whiteboard with notes from our discussion. On the left is a list of what the kids "knew" about sharks, and on the right is a list of what people generally "think" about sharks.

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And just before we left to meet up with the shark experts in the next room, we got to meet a tiny chain dog fish:

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He (or she, they won't know for a while) was so cute and maybe all of six inches!

The shark experts gave an excellent and lively presentation. They talked with the kids about the various kinds of sharks, how and why sharks are caught or hunted and some common misconceptions as well. (Did you know you are more likely to be bitten by a person in New York City than by a shark anywhere in the world? And how likely is that? One would hope not very.)

Now, I will leave you here with a brief glimpse of the start of the dissection. The shark guys were very careful to explain to the children that this dogfish was dead, and could not feel anything. They also explained how we must treat it with respect. They described the ways scientists like themselves use such dissections to learn more about sharks - and to ultimately help people live more peacefully with these beautiful animals.

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I must say, Crackerjack held his own and watched the whole procedure - though he took off his gloves early on declaring, "Well, I'm not gonna touch it!" :) As I understand it, Bookworm opted out of this portion of the class and sat off to the side with a friend. (This from the kid who wants to be a vet, lol. I guess we'll work on that.) :)

We were sent home with a nice book about dog sharks, including a model shark to build - which we'll do today while waiting for Earlybird at speech. When we get home I will have the boys write up a narration of our experience yesterday and label a shark diagram for their notebooks. We'll also look over this great webpage all about New England sharks. Wonderful photos and information there!

Well, thanks for letting me take you with us to our shark class! If you'd like to check out the dissection photos, remember they are safely tucked away in the photo album at right. I will add notes to the photos later today. I need to pick CJ's brain to remember all that was said!

Have a great day everyone, and thanks, as always, for stopping by!

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