Thursday, May 26, 2011

Slime, Fins, Scales, and Organs Galore!

Thurston County and Chehalis Basin Students Explore Salmon Anatomy from the Outside – In

Curious minds took full advantage of the opportunity to explore fish anatomy and physiology at the Student GREEN Congress (Thurston County) and Chehalis Basin Education Consortium Student Congress this past March. Every year, participating 4th through 12th grade classrooms gather water quality samples from local watersheds (over 2,000 and 1,500 students involved respectively). Classroom delegates were selected (over 380 and 300 students respectively) to present their findings to both peers and natural resource professionals at these culminating Congress events.

Prior to the event, students signed up for workshops offered by local professionals and community volunteers. These conservation-based courses served as supplemental learning components to the water quality reports presented by the student delegates. Dan Spencer, USFWS fisheries technician and educator, provided two workshops at each event. Joe Jauquet, a local salmon biologist, also provided dissection instruction at the Student Green Congress.

Dan and Joe with salmon carcass
These workshops focused on salmon anatomy and physiology. Two giant salmon carcasses were laid out in front of students as Dan and Joe carefully explained the dissection process and safety procedures. Many students gasped, some students cringed, but within moments all students were completely silent, in awe of one of our nation’s greatest natural resources.

Seeing this as a teachable moment, Dan and Joe began by explaining how the salmon that the students were about to dissect were once living creatures. “We need to show respect for these fish. It is amazing how these fish even survived to adulthood. Out of 2,000 to 4,000 eggs, only one or two are typically successful in making this impressive round trip journey.” The children inched closer, their eyes focused on the bodies that lay before them.

Dan dissecting salmon carcass
Once the gloves were passed around the circle, Dan honed the message further by asking a simple yet poignant question, “How are we like salmon?” At first no one knew how to answer. Eventually one child timidly raised her hand and asked “We both have eyes?” Dan broke into an enthusiastic smile as he proclaimed “Yes! What else?” Soon there were shouts coming from all directions. “We have a head!” “Yes!” “A heart!” “Yes!” “A brain! A stomach!” “Yes! Yes!”

As soon as the excitement settled, Joe began to gingerly dissect the first carcass. “Does anyone know what these are?” Joe asked in almost a whisper. “Gills.” replied a little boy closest to me. “That’s right. And what do we have that are like gills?” “Lungs?” “Correct. Gills extract oxygen from the water like our lungs extract oxygen from the air.”

Students passing
around salmon organs 
As Joe passed the salmon gills around the circle, the children cradled them as if they were made out of glass. The connection that Dan and Joe both made between humans and nature seemed to hit home in a deep and meaningful way.

Before we knew it, the workshop was over. “This was an awesome session! I am so glad that I signed up for it. I learned so much about fish!” I heard one girl whisper to her friend. “It was gross but awesome!” a young boy exclaimed to his friend. “It was gross-ome!” his friend replied back. I personally could not agree more.

For more information on South Sound GREEN:

For more information on the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium: