Guts and glory

Seal dissection in Pond Inlet a lesson in anatomy and nutrition



A group of students from Guelph, Ontario, gasped as Kelly Akpaleeapik sliced through a seal and revealed its fatty underbelly. A couple more incisions by the Grade 10 Pond Inlet student and the animal’s stomach gases filled the classroom.

“Those of you who are hungry are going to have to wait,” boomed Jimmy Jacquard, a science teacher at Pond’s Nasivvik school.

The advisory drew smiles from Pond Inlet students — a handful waiting for a cube of the slick, dense meat.

The dissection marked the end of a 10-day exchange for 20 high school students from Guelph, a city in southern Ontario. The lesson was an example of how traditional Inuit knowledge and science are compatible educational tools.

Once a year, Jacquard asks a student to cut up a seal in his classroom. The butchering coincides with a human anatomy module for the Grade 11 biology class.

“A seal’s organs are very, very similar to humans’, and its a culturally relevant way of teaching the class,” Jacquard said.

He said seals are a far more familiar sight to students than, say, reptiles or lab animals — specimens typically used in high school classrooms in the south.

“It’s not like we have any frogs up here,” Jacquard said with a chuckle.

Not only do Jacquard’s students take an active role in the class by slicing, offering input and asking questions. Pupils and teachers from other classes drop by and poke and probe at the removed organs laid out in metal trays.

During the recent dissection, Jacquard learned something new about seals.

“A student ate an eyeball. You should have seen the size of it. It took him about two minutes to chew all of it,” Jacquard said. “I never knew you could eat them but when you think about it, a long time ago everything would have been eaten.”

Not only is Jacquard’s methodology an innovative way to teach human anatomy. His approach gives students a sense of pride in their culture and a snack before lunch.

While Akpaleeapik cut away the digestive and reproduction organs, Jacquard washed the lungs. After demonstrating how to inflate the lungs with one hard breath, Jacquard handed over the bright red organ — approximately the same size as human lungs — to the students.

Most students reached for the flaccid trachea and inflated the soft tissue like a balloon.

By this point, the southern teens had already experienced a two-day camp out, sunburns, sleep deprivation, qamutiik travel, an Inuit sports day and various forms of country food. Slicing and dicing the marine mammal’s internal organs was — it appeared — a breaking point.

“Eat it? I can’t stand the smell of it,” quipped one student.

The Guelph students were not alone. Most Pond Inlet teens declined a taste of the raw, iron-rich meat.

Guelph student Gwen Stadig raved about watching the dissection.

“This is something I’d never seen in my high school. It’s soooooo interesting and so amazing to have all the teachers and Inuit right there sharing their traditional knowledge with us,” she said.

Seanna Pitseolak, an elder and teacher at the school, boiled the seal meat and ribs. The skin was sent to a sewing shop and the dissected organs were fed to a dog team.

“Nothing went to waste,” Jacquard said.

Pond Inlet students fly to Guelph May 10 for their 10-day urban exchange.

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