Our World-Underwater's Children's Program History
Since 2006 OWU has offered a Children’s Program. Deanna LaSusa-Hotchner of Discover the Depths coordinates the program that provides children of all ages the opportunity to learn about marine animals and the ecosystems they live in. Children create their own ocean related crafts, read books, watch underwater videos and try on kid sized snorkeling and scuba gear. Deanna is aided by numerous volunteers seeking to educate children about the underwater world.
In honor of OWU’s 40th Anniversary in 2009, Deanna created something ‘big’ for the Children’s Program. She organized a community service project between Westinghouse High School’s Science Club and the Chicago Scuba Meetup Group to build a life-size humpback whale; it is 60’ long and 45’ wide. The whale, which is affectionately named ‘Harry’, made his debut at the 40th Anniversary show. Harry was a hit!
The whale is inflatable so people can walk inside and see its internal anatomy. The high school students designed and constructed a life-sized brain, heart, lung and baleen. The whale has external anatomical details such as barnacles and tubercles. People are treated to the famous humpback whale songs while touring Harry.
In addition to teaching the Science Club students about humpback whales, Deanna drew on her experience as a Shedd Aquarium volunteer to train the students on public speaking and how to educate others about humpbacks. During the 2009 OWU show, Westinghouse High School Science Club members taught other kids what they learned and gave people tours of Harry. While helping out at the scuba show the students had the opportunity to meet members of the dive industry to learn about the different careers available. The humpback whale project culminated in a free Discover Scuba for all Westinghouse High School students. Over 15 students tried scuba for the first time ever! The humpback whale project was sponsored in part by the Aquatic Education Group and the support of many volunteers making it a stupendous success.
Since February 2009 Harry has gone on the road and over 1700 people have experienced this amazing, interactive educational tool. Deanna has given numerous presentations about humpback whales unique behaviors and the environmental threats they face.
A pervasive problem the oceans face is marine debris, in particular plastics. While Deanna was encouraging her audiences to reduce the amount of plastics they use she realized the humpback whale was made entirely of plastic and she felt she needed to do something to correct that.
Deanna decided her next project would be comprised of recycled plastics to send a strong environmental message to recycle, reduce and reuse plastics. Deanna is now coordinating another community service project between Westinghouse High School’s Environmental Club and the Chicago Scuba Meetup Group to build a life size great white shark. Deanna and the students have gathered numerous recycled plastics and post consumer materials from the Creative Reuse Warehouse and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore to construct the 15’ long shark. The great white shark, ‘Toothless’, made its debut at the 2010 Our World Underwater Scuba show. The great white shark project is sponsored in part by the Tim Early Foundation.
It is hoped that through education projects like these people will become more interested in preserving amazing animals such as humpback whales and great white sharks and the oceans they inhabit.
Deanna consulted with Art Professor Steve Loar, of the One Island Project, www.oneisland.us who generously gave students a mini-workshop on how to create small works of art out of recycled plastics. This project faced many challenges - to create something this large and have the numerous pieces of plastic remain connected together in a stable framework. Through much trial and error, we overcame the challenges and Toothless is made of 90% post consumer products.
So why is she called ‘Toothless’? Sharks are magnificent animals shrouded in mystique and seriously misunderstood. Its Deanna’s goal to ‘defang’ the myths, make people aware of their important place in the oceans and, ultimately, take action to protect sharks.