Seward students put together sea lion skeleton

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Marc Swanson's sixth-graders were up to their elbows in sea lion this year.

Swanson and the Seward Elementary students put together a skeleton using a real sea lion carcass. The bones can be taken apart, and Swanson said his students are masters at reconstructing the skeleton.

''We all love the ribs,'' Swanson said. ''They're the best part.''

Project Wiinaq was made possible with a $5,000 grant from the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation's Direct Grants to Teachers program.

Swanson is one of 34 Alaska teachers to receive science and technology grants through the program in 2001. Their projects were on display Thursday and Friday at the Hilton Anchorage hotel at the foundation's annual teachers conference.

Teachers set up interactive booths to show off their projects. They also participated in workshops and gave advice to the 2002 grant recipients.

The program was created in 1988 to generate ideas and fund research in Alaska, said outreach coordinator Sharon Fisher. The teachers' program was created in 1991 to encourage students to get involved in science.

The program offers grants up to $5,000 for teachers. The money is used for supplies, computers, software, building materials and expert help.

''That's a lot of car washes,'' Fisher said. ''But these are the teachers and students who would do it anyway. We just help them out.''

The teachers and schools own the equipment when the project is finished. Projects can be repeated every year.

In Big Delta, John Donaldson's students are using the grant to explore a relationship between soil moisture and birch tree sap production. Brian Marvin's students in Shismaref are using a wind-powered generator to power an indoor garden. Students, from Rogers Park Elementary in Anchorage to Nikiski High School, are building Lego robots and programming the robots themselves.

For Project Wiinaq, the money helped Swanson construct a steel framework to hold the pieced-together skeleton. He bought the materials and paid for the welding.

The Seward SeaLife Center donated the carcass, which was found in Day Harbor near Resurrection Bay. The center performed a necropsy on the sea lion and determined it died of starvation.

''This project really hit home,'' Swanson said. ''The problem is indicative of bigger problems with the state's sea lion population.''

Students were divided into groups, each responsible for a different section of the carcass. Besides working with the skeleton, the students had to complete research projects that ranged from how broken bones mend to how skulls evolved.

Swanson said businesses donated supplies, the Seward SeaLife Center housed the carcass during the project and volunteers were always helping out.

The students sacrificed recess time and came in after school for a month to work on the project. They did it all, from boiling the carcass to scraping the bones clean.

''The school is very glad it's over with,'' Swanson said. ''It was a little smelly.''

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