WESLEY CHAPEL — Crystal Moore cradled the Humboldt squid eye in her hand, examining it front and back.
"I'm thinking their eyes are really big, and they have really good vision," the 18-year-old Wesley Chapel High School senior said. "And they're really goopy. I would think the eye would have a different texture. But not."
Junior Keaundra Delaney, 16, crinkled her nose at the conversation.
"It is gross. But it is interesting to know about. But it is still nasty," she said, refusing to touch the squid parts despite wearing gloves. "I wouldn't eat it, either. Do you smell that? Just the smell is a turnoff."
Ahh, that fishy smell. It wafted through the school's hallways on Friday as marine sciences classes got the opportunity to dissect and examine nearly 5-foot-long Humboldt squids for the end of their invertebrate unit.
Even if you didn't know the squids were in the school, you couldn't help but smell them. The odor only helped generate more of a crowd, as teachers and students not in the classes peeked in while the other teens studied the ink sac, tentacles and, of course, the eyes.
"There is so much liquid in the eye," Crystal observed, squeezing it gently. "Do you think we have so much liquid in our eyes?"
"You guys, stop," Keaundra responded as her classmates put the tangerine-sized eyeball close to her.
Then the unexpected. Keaundra took the eye. She smiled wide.
"It feels like someone is looking at me," she said. "It's interesting. What if my eye was this big?"
How big? Science department chairwoman Susan Cullum explained to the class that proportionally, the Humboldt squid has the biggest eye of any animal. A student would have an eye the size of his head to get the same ratio, she said to whoas and oohs.
She showed them the eyeball inside the body to give an idea of just how large it was. Then she moved on to discuss the strong muscled tentacles with their suckers filled with teeth, and how they grab food and pull it toward their beaked mouths.
Senior Greg Graham, filled with answers and enthusiasm about the squid, mentioned half-jokingly that he wouldn't want to put his finger near the beak.
"It might have a reflex and bite me," he said.
Moments later, Cullum pushed the body forward as Greg gingerly poked the mouth. He jumped back — fast — as everyone else laughed.
"This is just an amazing experience," Greg said later.
He may as well have been speaking for all the marine sciences students, who would have been squinting at 10-inch squids if not for this connection with Stanford University's Squids 4 Kids program, which brings giant Humboldts to schools. The only cost to the district was the shipping charge.
The program has access to the larger species because Humboldts have begun to roam farther north than usual and commercial catches are increasing.
Schools are taking advantage to give students a hands-on experience they might not otherwise get, while also teaching about meteorology, and the business of fishing.
"It's a really good opportunity to bring this strange creature to them," teacher Kathy Reilly said. "They've been so excited. I wish we had more experiences like this."
So, too, did the students.
They appreciated the lessons, for one thing.
"If it wasn't for this class, I'd go to the beach and I'd still think it was just sand and water," senior Brittney Freeman said.
They also enjoyed doing more than just reading.
"This should be the FCAT science test right here," Crystal said, as she felt around the squid's mantle, working to avoid the ink sac. "This should be the way they test science."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.