'We accidently cut the heart in half because we didn't know it was there'

BEND, Ore. (AP) Noah Kokkeler, 12, looked down at the piece of gray flesh he was holding in his gloves, realizing too late what it was.

He had gone too far with the pair of scissors.

"We accidently cut the heart in half because we didn't know it was there," Noah said.

"Oops," said his lab partner, Kate Samples, 13.

Noah looked up and grinned.

On a recent Wednesday morning, about 10 students in the Bend Science Station's Outrageous Oceanography course dissected dogfish sharks to better understand the anatomy of underwater animals. The class is taught by science station founder David "Bermi" Bermudez.

Most of the students enrolled in the three-month-long oceanography class are home-schooled fifth- through eighth-graders. The class is held every Wednesday morning. The students have studied a variety of topics, including ocean currents, waves and sonar technology.

"Bermi puts so much energy and thought into teaching them," said Lisa Brass, who helps out in the class her son is enrolled in. "He really brings the textbooks to life. It's hard not to be interested in science after coming here."

The Bend Science Station offers science classes year-round to elementary through high school students. Covering areas such as physiology, biology and geology, the nonprofit organization has worked to expand science education in Central Oregon since 2002.

The session began with an overview of the dogfish shark's anatomy on an overhead projector diagram. Bermudez discussed the various fins, organs and senses of the shark. After Bermudez went over the shark's highly developed sense of smell, Noah raised his hand.

"So is that why it confuses them so much if you punch them in the nose?" asked Noah.

Students in the class laughed.

After the overview was finished, it was time for the highly anticipated dissection. Bermudez passed out sticks of gum, reviewed what to do if students felt nauseous and broke students up into pairs. Once everyone had secured gloves, Bermudez opened a green plastic tub and began handing out the shark specimens, each of which was about the size of a salmon. The room was filled with a rank odor.

The students began cutting along the jaw line, opening up a point of entry for the rest of the dissection process. As students cut through the shark's gray flesh, oil oozed onto the paper table protector. Earlier in the session, students were told to expect oil, as sharks produce it in large quantities to help them stay afloat.

"It's all squishy," said Noah of the shark. Though this was the first time Noah had dissected a shark, he said he was no stranger to raw fish.

"I really like sushi, and I'm really good with seafood," Noah said. "And if you think about it, this is seafood, too, because something must eat it," he said, pointing to the shark with his scalpel.

Cries of "Eeew!" ''Gross!" and "Sick!" echoed across the lab as students ventured further in the dissection process. Most of the students participated in cutting into the fish. However, Evan Brass, 12, decided to watch the process from afar while his lab partner took over the cutting duties.

"I've watched dissections before, but I don't actually like doing them," said Evan. "I'm not interested in taking something apart."

Despite not wanting to partake in the activity, Evan said he has really enjoyed the oceanography class, especially the segments about water and dolphins.

What Evan lacked in enthusiasm for the dissection process, his lab partner, Orion Junkins, 11, more than made up for. Orion gave his shark a nickname.

"Joey Joe Joe Junior has no gut," said Orion, holding up the shark's stomach.

Many students found remnants of an animal's last meal in a stomach they dissected. Briley Johnson, 14, found a large shrimp.

"It's OK, I guess," Briley said of the dissection. "But this part's kind of sick," she said, nodding to the shark's open stomach.

Toward the end of the class, students were able to "free-cut," and explore other parts of the shark.

Many students went for the brain, including Orion, who while attempting to find it, ended up popping the shark's eyeball by accident with the scalpel. Oily goop oozed out of the socket. Orion, seemingly unfazed by the incident, continued to search for the brain.

By session's end, each student had a firsthand understanding of a shark's anatomy. And perhaps more importantly, all the students managed to hold on to their breakfasts.

"It was pretty epic," Tristan Helmich, 13, said of the dissection experience. "This class is really outside of the box but in a good way."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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