From left to right, Madi Flake, Jade Tangeman, Katie Schouten, Sharon Mo and Kaitlyn Jones eye a dogfish shark they’re dissecting for extra credit in biology.
The largest area of a shark’s brain controls its sense of smell and taste. Compare that to a human’s mind, which mostly directs cognitive function.
Perhaps a shark would turn up its nose at dissection — thinking a pleasant scent more important than the excitement of discovery.
Biology students at Payson High School, however, are directed by cognition, and did appreciate identifying all the dogfish shark’s various parts during a recent after-school experiment.
“This is totally the funnest thing I’ve done all day,” said Madi Flake.
The three-day dissection allowed about 45 biology students, mostly freshman, in Beverly Adams’ and Joe Schmidt’s classes to earn extra credit while learning about the dogfish shark’s inner organs.
“We can’t fit in everything we’d like to teach,” said Schmidt. Students also dissect crayfish and fetal pigs. This way, they learn the increasing complexity of the heart, how various beings digest food, and how they differ in composition.
Sharks, for instance, have no bone. Cartilage forms its skeleton, which allows it to maintain flexibility. And so, a shark can abruptly turn and gobble dinner as it swims through the ocean, its smell-driven mind keenly alert for prey.
“We keep trying to enrich our curriculum,” said Schmidt.
Students seemed to love this knife-fueled discovery.
“Ms. Adams, I found the brain,” one student cried out.
Tiana DeWitte said she enjoyed the experiment. “It’s pretty cool,” she said. “People get all grossed out. I don’t have a problem with it.”
Students learned about a shark’s digestive system, with its spiral valve twisted to increase surface area and improve digestion. Some sharks can also force disagreeable food out through their mouths to avoid digesting it.
Students also learned that a shark’s heart has two chambers — as opposed to a human’s, which has four chambers.
“We know they’re successful when they say, ‘I’ve got the eyeball,’ and they hold it up and they’re happy,” said Schmidt.
“It’s a sign they’ve bought into the learning.”
Logan Morris said he liked the cutting, and he also did not mind the smell. “You get used to it,” he said.
Each day, students also answered a question. That day, the question required students to explain why sharks are such successful hunters. Their cartilaginous composition and consequent flexibility offers one explanation, students said.
Each day, students were also required to draw a system such as the reproductive system, the nervous system, or the circulatory system.
Adams said the sharks were triple injected with colored dyes so students could easily differentiate among various parts. Indeed, some of the shark’s insides looked like a blue and pink piece of Silly Putty.
“If you were to catch a shark in the wild, it’s not going to look so pretty,” Adams said.
But, if one of Adams’ students caught a shark in the wild, at least they could probably point to where the liver is.