Most of us have experienced it before. We walk into
the classroom and the teacher cheerfully asks, "So,
everyone ready for the dissection?"
Dissecting animals has been a part of America's educational
system for decades. Chances are if you take science,
you will have a course that requires a dissection.
But in today's modern society questions are arising about
the source of the animals used in various dissections.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS),
a wide variety of animals used in dissections including
amphibians, birds, fish, snakes, turtles and invertebrates
are taken from their natural habitat, even though certain
species populations could be declining.
Researchers from the World Conservation Union reported
that in 2004 a third of all amphibian species around
the globe, including frogs, were threatened with the
possibility of extinction.
A decrease in frog populations means an increased demand
for pesticides. As told by the HSUS, frogs eat well
over their body weight in insects every day. Taking
frogs from the wild means that the population of certain
insects, including disease carrying ones, will skyrocket.
Another questionable environmental issue associated with
dissection is the actual chemicals used in the preservation
fluids for the specimens. A chemical called formaldehyde
is a potent and dangerous ingredient contained in the
Formaldehyde has been proven to cause nausea, headaches,
and breathing difficulties in people. Formaldehyde has
even been linked to some forms of cancers if a person
is exposed to the chemical over an extended period of
According to the HSUS, schools discard millions of
formaldehyde laden specimens each year, raising concerns
about neighboring ecosystems.
This may lead you to ask what could possibly be done
about this. By encouraging science educators to purchase
their specimens only from sources who offer farm raised
animals; schools could greatly impact this problem of
There is also a new technology called "digital dissection".
There are various computer dissection programs such as
Drylab Dissections and Catworks that take students through
an actual dissection using realistic graphics, as well
as a full-motion video. Programs exist for many commonly
used dissection specimens, including frogs, rats, earthworms,
fetal pigs, and even cats.
Other programs, such as Digital Frog 2 and Visifrog,
use high-quality computer animation to simulate an actual
animal dissection. Animal rights organizations such
as the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) applaud
this new technology and have started free-of-charge
loan programs through which schools can try out software.
Digital dissection programs can be expensive, but with
so many animal rights groups offering loans it is becoming
easier for schools to get their hands on this new technology.
Our very own biology/anatomy educator Dr. Gaunt was
approached with the concept of digital dissection and
said, "I think it's a great idea. A lot of good
things could come from it." At this point, however,
our school lacks the technology to do digital dissections,
and still buys real specimens for dissecting. Most recently,
Dr. Gaunt's classes dissected mullet.
Students and educators are open to digital dissections,
so schools what are you waiting for?