‘Fin-tastic’ lessons: SAFE BASE students help dissect shark



January 18, 2017 - 12:00 AM

On Tuesday afternoon, nurse Wanda Kneen prised open the pale underbelly of a small dogfish shark. She ran a scalpel over the stomach pouch, laying its contents bare. She sliced into its liver, and removed its heart, and opened its womb — extracting three baby sharks — and then she pressed a thumb firmly into the shark’s left eye socket until, after a great deal of prying — struggling against about 400 million years of evolutionary gristle — the eye popped free. At that point, standing before a crowd of bellowing fifth and sixth graders — who had gathered to watch the public dissection as part of SAFE BASE’s 2nd Annual Shark Week — Kneen set upon the eyeball with her knife. 

“It looks small through the front, but it’s basically a human-sized eyeball,” said Kneen, separating the vitreous orb from the remaining bits of optic nerve.

“And here,” said Kneen—”wait, where is it?” She reached into the shark’s body cavity, which she held parted like a coin purse, and sifted through its innards as calmly as if she were rummaging for a tube of lipstick. “Here it is. Yep. Remember those baby sharks? This is one of their food sacs. These sharks are born live, but they do not get milk from their mothers, like whales do. They feed off of this sac until it’s gone and they’re able to feed on their own or they become food for something else. And then this sac comes off.” Kneen squeezed the sac between her thumb and forefinger. “You see that? It looks like a very soft cheese.” One boy groaned. “Have you ever eaten feta cheese?” asked Kneen. “The one I did yesterday crumbled up like feta cheese.”

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