During my first year working at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, I was given the nick name Dissection Queen by my colleagues on the interpretive delivery team. While you may not think this would be a very desirable nickname, I was in fact that kid in high school biology class who loved dissections as they gave me a better understanding of how animals work. Seeing their body parts up close and personal was fascinating. I loved learning more about anatomy, and as a result, I was also that kid who took the fetal pig out during study time—time and time again. Weird, I know.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Wet Lab

Sometimes dissections can give off an unpleasant smell. . .

During my university degree, vertebrate biology was one of my favourite classes, but the lab portion where we dissected animals also happened to be one of my strongest. I had the opportunity to look at and better understand so many different creatures: fish, frogs, pigeons, quails, rats, rabbits and sharks to name a few.

So when I landed a job at the Vancouver Aquarium educating people in the galleries I was excited to share my love of animals with a wider audience. I was able to use my dissection skills to give guests the opportunity to understand and appreciate animals the same way I did so many years ago. I love to connect guests with animals and allow them to appreciate them through a different perspective.

My title, Dissection Queen, somehow started spreading around the staff of the Aquarium, so when animals pass away from natural causes they get one last opportunity to educate people. I’ve even had guests come up from specifically from Washington State to see one of my black tip reef shark dissections.

I typically dissect herring, sardines, salmon, perch and squid. Many of the larger creatures I do alongside our props master, Perry Poon. I’ve had the opportunity to show guests two species of shark, wolf eels and a three meter Humboldt squid, but my favourite was the 7.3-metre giant Pacific octopus pictured below.

Humbolt squid

Kirsten assists with a dissection of “Octavious” a recently deceased giant Pacific octopus.

It was massive! Octopuses are really cool to show people as they are so different from us: they have an ink sac, a beak and three hearts each about the size of your fist.

Humbolt squid tentacle.

Kirsten shows off the dimensions of a sucker on the octopus.

To continue to pass down this knowledge and hands-on learning, I now train my coworkers on our dissection programs, looking for the next Dissection Queen, or King, to join the ranks.

Blog post by Kristen Shaw, interpretive delivery specialist at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

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One Response

  1. Tony Hogg

    Kirsten (Shaw),
    You gave my family a wonderful behind the scenes tour on 22 December.
    I have tried to send some cookies for you and Billy as a small token of our gratitude.
    We had a wonderful tour with you and will remember all that you showed us for many years to come.
    Thank you so very much.
    Best wishes
    Tony Hogg
    Now in Cornwall, UK. 00441326565021. TR12 7PR


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