Prime Specimens

October 08, 2004 1 min read

Howard Whitten, a high school science teacher in Maine, offers a class that truly requires hands-on experience: taxidermy.

“I can’t imagine being a science teacher and teaching the kids about birds from a picture, slide, or projector,” said Mr. Whitten, who teaches at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, Maine.

Securing materials for his students to work with isn’t always easy. Now, thanks to a donation to Mr. Whitten’s program from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, his students will have plenty.

The collection of about 400 specimens—some pelts, some mounted, and some frozen—is made up of “extras” from the institution’s Hall of Mammals in the National Museum of Natural History, which recently completed renovations.

Mr. Whitten heard about the specimens through a colleague who worked at the institution, often called “the nation’s attic.” Once his request that they be donated to his school was approved last month, he gladly accepted them.

All of the donations were scheduled to be transported to the 900-student school by this week. Though the Smithsonian has not established an official value, the collection is thought to be quite valuable.

Some of the notable stuffed animals include a mounted pair of lions from Mozambique and a grizzly bear and bighorn sheep from Russia.

“We’re desperate for these things in Maine,” Mr. Whitten said. “If I wasn’t such a good beggar, there would not be a program here.”

And since Mr. Whitten’s 15 students use the specimens as their textbooks, they are reaping the benefits of their teacher’s begging skills.

“I love it,” John Turdeon, 16, a junior, said of taxidermy. “We preserve the beauty of the environment.”

Mr. Whitten, who also teaches at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, plans to allow both his high school and college students to study the specimens. Other interested schools may borrow the specimens as long as they use care in handling and sign a contract, he said.

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