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Camp concludes Dolphin Week with activities for all the senses

By Staff | Aug 10, 2011

Sanibel Sea School counselor Brendan Schafer, right, allows campers to taste some hot sauce after dissolving "The Miracle Berry" on their tongues.

To cap Dolphin Week, during which Sanibel Sea School campers investigated the behaviors, characteristics and evolution of the marine mammals, the Sanibel educational facility hosted a Sensory Fair last Friday.

As part of the two-day event, youngsters engaged in several taste and smell tests, experienced a series of optical illusions and took turns dissecting actual cow eyeballs.

“Each of our ‘theme’ weeks includes sub-themes, and since dolphins are one of the big brain species we study, we’ve held discussions about the different sensory systems,” explained Dr. Bruce Neill, founder and executive director of Sanibel Sea School. “We do some really cool things here that is like college-level stuff, but we do it in a way that can be understood and enjoyed by 8-year-olds.”

During Dolphin Week, campers studied how dolphins use echolocation in order to communicate with each other. They also explored how sound travels underneath the water and how these social creatures interact with other marine life as well as humans.

As part of the taste test, camp counselor Brandan Schafer offered several types of foods – each with their own individual flavors, textures and consistencies – for the children to sample. Most of the youngsters balked at the blandness of cottage cheese or the tartness of vinegar. However, after having them let what he called “The Miracle Berry” dissolve on their tongues, the kids happily tasted sour foods like lemons and pickles, which were made to taste super sweet by the addition of miraculin.

Dr. Bruce Neill, center, assists daughter Emma, left, and Naomi Radke-Rowe with an optical experiment.

Miraculin contains a glycoprotein extracted from the fruit of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, which has been used for centuries as a sugar substitute.

“Write down in your journals what the different in the taste is,” said Schafer, encouraging the campers. “It’s kinda wild, isn’t it?”

Inside the school’s main classroom, students worked in groups of two, three and four in dissecting cow eyeballs. Using the Carolina Mammal Eye Dissection Guide, both boys and girls took turns in making incisions and examined the different portions of the eye, including the optic nerve, pupil, cornea, iris and lens.

“It was very gooey and slimy, but it’s a lot of fun,” said camper Naomi Radke-Rowe, who added with a grin, “It’s disgustingly addictive!”

Dr. Neill noted to the group that while humans have six muscles that control eye movements, a cow only has four.

Avery Johnson and Dr. Bruce Neill examine the lens of a cow's eye.

“A cow can’t roll its eyes like we do,” he said, “so I don’t know what a young cow does when its mother embarrasses them.”

According to instructor Michelle Beumer, events such as the Sensory Fair encourages the camp participants to think like a scientist would.

“We tell them that they’re mini scientists, and that they should think like one,” said Beumer. “When they go home at the end of the day, they share what they’ve learned with their parents and their siblings. They’re having a lot of fun, but they’re learning, too.”

From Aug. 15-19, Sanibel Sea School campers will take part in Sea Star Week, where they will examine how the species can regenerate limbs and pry open clams. Aug. 22-26 is Tarpon Week, when the 6 to 13-year-old pupils will examine the importance of healthy waters.

For additional information, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org.