Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Whale hands

We had a good friend come up to visit recently (congrats to him on accepting a position with Intel). We took the Little Bear out and explored the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley's Cal Day. Of course I had to show off the dinosaur skeletons in my building. The Tyrannosaurus is always a big hit at capturing imaginations.

In awe of the Tyrannosaurus.

There were several exhibits, and even some live specimens to interact with:

Fearlessly, but cautiously, examining the boa

While touring the Museum, the Little Bear made a comment that I am so very proud of. We were looking at the fossils of several marine mammals. I was describing the anatomy of the whale, and the Little Bear interrupted me to point at this part and tell me that it was the "hand". Yes! What a very clever observation, dear little person! 

Whale "hand"

Of course, being the big nerd that I am, I then held up both her hand and my hand next to it, and explained how the bones in the whale's flipper are actually homologous (shared from a common ancestor) with human hand bones. (I might have also used the words metacarpals and phalanges... but really, how are children supposed to learn if we are afraid to challenge them with new words and ideas? Lucky for me, she just eats it up.) So, I told her, even though a whale's flipper, and a human hand look quite different on the outside, the bones underneath enlighten us about our shared evolutionary history.

She was able to recognize, at two years old, what so many people close their eyes to. Amazing.

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