Museum science dissections – a new trend?

It seems like New Zealand museums are setting a new trend for staging scientific dissections of big interesting animals and getting the public involved in them online.

It’s a great way to engage visitors with the scientific activities of natural history museums – it takes the behind-the-scenes stuff out into the public arena. And it can be a real boost to public knowledge and understanding about animal biology and conservation.

Today Auckland Museum is holding a dissection of a Great White Shark and you can view it on their website from 2pm. The necropsy, or animal autopsy, will raise public awareness of this magnificent, and vulnerable fish species.

Here at Te Papa we have also had great success with making some recent scientific examinations and dissections available online. In April 2008 a team of scientists thawed and examined a colossal squid, but didn’t dissect it. This is the colossal squid now on display , along with lots of info explaining it’s anatomy. While the team examined the big colossal squid specimen they dissected a smaller, incomplete colossal squid specimen and a giant squid specimen and blogged about it live. The information we got  from dissecting these other big squid specimens was vital to understanding the biology of the colossal squid, and then communicating this in the exhibition.

After the success of the squid investigations we then decided to blog about a dissection of a pygmy right whale in May 2008. Looking at our blog stats we still have heaps of people going to these posts about the pygmy right whale heart and lungs – somewhat strange, but true.  I’m not sure why these posts would be so popular – so if anyone out there knows please tell me!

Then in July 2008 the Melbourne Museum held a public dissection of a giant squid, which you can view here.

From big molluscs we have now moved on to big fish! It’s great to see these new ways of communicating science in museums being explored and our museum-based scientists taking centre stage –  I’m interested to know what others think about this.

5 Responses

  1. Jonathan

    I would like to know how to get to view these museum events?

    • pamelalovis

      Hi Jonathan
      Not sure if you mean that you’d like to see them at the time or view them online? The squid dissection wasn’t a public event that you could go and see – it wasn’t possible in such a small lab to let people in to view it other than the team of scientists and some media. But there is some webcam footage of the squid dissection on Te Papa’s website here The squid dissection features in the Discovery Channel doco about the Colossal Squid which has been shown in the US and was screened here in NZ this week.

      The whale dissection we did was done in the same lab as the squid. Again, in such a small space it wasn’t feasible to have people watching and sadly we weren’t able to do a webcast. But we did manage to take some great pics and do some live blogging.

      You can see some video of the Auckland Museum’s shark dissection on their website – this event was held outside and seen by a big crowd.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Jean

    I saw too that there was a public dissection of a white pointer recently (in Auckland I think plus one in Nelson)………….. I have to say though we at Portobello have been doing public dissections for a couple of years (blowing own trumpet here!!!)!! We’ve done a couple of sharks ( Porbeagle and a Blue) plus we do hands on dissections usually spiny dogfish or Arrow Squid, We unfortunately don’t have the capacity to webcast it all. I think these are great and the public obviously think so if the turnout and web hits are anything to go by!

    Publicity for us is by flyers, poster and on our website, we also have an email list (much like yours) that we advertise upcoming events on. Would be great to co-ordinate such events, although for us big dissections are serendipitous and only happen if a) a local fisher catches something impressive and B) brings it in thinking of us !!!


  3. Mark (Smivs) Smitheman

    This is a trend that I, for one, welcome. The Collosal Squid webcasts and whale dissection were compelling and fascinating, and I am really looking forward to the next one.
    One potential annoyance is that you often only find out about these events too late. It would be nice if there was some way that all the museums doing this type of work could co-ordinate, promoting each other and publicising up-coming events in good time.
    Keep up the good work,
    Mark (Smivs) Smitheman

    • pamelalovis

      Hi Mark
      Yes I agree – it would be good if museums could get better at coordinating with each other, as you suggest. It’s something we’ll have to work on! We certainly need to think about how such events get publicised, and how to take account of time differences etc. Not sure what Te Papa’s next such event will be, but we’re definitely thinking about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if before too long there’s another big colossal squid specimen to examine – and we’re still hoping to see a male! thanks for keeping in touch. Pamela

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