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Teaching — You can peer into the belly of a shark these Easter holidays. The Øresund Aquarium invites you to turn up for a dissection.
Children and adults can get a good look into two small-spotted catsharks and a more than one metre-long gray shark during the Easter holidays at the Øresund Aquarium, which is a University of Copenhagen (UCPH) unit.
There will be mucus, blood, tissue, and intestines galore, and a talk about the abundant wildlife of the Sound straights.
»Some children will say ‘yuck!’, but no one has yet protested against the fact that we cut into animals,« says Jens Peder Jeppesen, aquarium manager and marine biologist at the Øresund Aquarium in Helsingør.
Other museums’ dissection of animals have led to major controversies. This happened, for example, when Copenhagen Zoo in 2014 killed a giraffe to dissect it later on the same day. But the Øresund Aquarium says it is not afraid of facing a storm of protests as they have taken their precautions.
»We don’t face protests, probably because all the animals that the Øresund Aquarium dissect have already died – either through natural causes or accidentally via the nets of fishermen. That’s why we don’t kill them before we subsequently dissect them. The dissection appears therefore to be a natural thing to do for our guests,« he says.
There are three sharks in the fridge right now. The two small-spotted catsharks of approximately 75 cm length are to be put under the knife on 3 April and 7 April respectively, while the slightly larger gray shark, slightly longer than one metre long, will get the same treatment on Wednesday 5 April. The dissection takes place at 12.15 on each of the days.
The gray shark is from the North Sea Museum, where it died from natural causes in the museum’s large Oceanarium.
One of the small-spotted catsharks got a goiter in the Øresund Aquarium and had to be euthanized, the other died out in the Sound when it was caught up by a fisherman from Humlebæk who submitted it to the Øresund Aquarium for dissection purposes.
According to the aquarium manager, the séance is a great communication tool to inform the museum’s guests about the Øresund wildlife:
»Cutting up fish and displaying them is an insanely effective way of communicating at a museum. Then I and the other employees can relate the stories about the marine animals: How do they live and how are they caught? People remember things a lot better when they can touch things,« says Jens Peder Jeppesen.
There will be plenty of opportunities to touch the animals at the dissection. According to Jens Peder Jeppesen, it is quite normal that children who come to the dissection of sharks, either with adults or with school classes, react strongest to the fact that they have never seen sharks in reality.
One of the things that children wonder about is why the sharks are so extremely rough on the surface. This is because their skin is covered with small triangular scales, called dermal denticles, that are like shark teeth, and that have clad sharks during the course of their evolutionary history.
The dermal denticles allow the sharks to smoothly glide through the water, but they also mean that people have to be careful when they are in close contact with the animals, even when they are not biting.
»The skin ‘teeth’ can cause nasty abrasions on the skin if you get too close, because they can grind you very forcefully,« says Jens Peder Jeppesen.
You can learn this, and much more, at the Øresund Aquarium which, over the years has dissected seals, porpoises and beluga whales – with no controversy.