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Cold Spring Harbor ‘Toothpalooza’ has kids learn about whale teeth

Aaliyah Parris, 4, of Manorville, looks at shark

Aaliyah Parris, 4, of Manorville, looks at shark teeth at the Whaling Museum in Cold Spring Harbor, Feb. 21, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Bella Bernzweig ran her fingers across the lines of a masted sailing ship carved into a whale tooth.

“It feels like a real pirate ship,” the 6-year-old from Huntington said.

“It’s a real whaling ship,” said Liz Fusco, educator and artist in residence, who showed the carved tooth, called a scrimshaw, to children and parents at the Whaling Museum and Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor on Sunday.

The museum’s second annual “Toothpalooza” mixed kid-friendly activities with history and lessons in conservation. Bernzweig drew a sea shell on a white plastic box. Then, with a little help from her father, Dan, 46, a Huntington banker, she used a sharp tool called a pickwick to carve the curved shell lines into the box.

“Who’s ready for the ink?” Fusco said. Bella said “I’m ready!” and Fusco squirted a black blob of ink onto the box. After wiping off the ink, the carved grooves were stained black, revealing the sea shell.

“I love it,” Bella said.

The intricately carved whale teeth created from the days when whaling ships docked on Long Island are part of the regular display at the museum. They were a distinct “Yankee craft” made with whale teeth, carved by sailors with nails and stained with tobacco juice, said Fusco.

“Sometimes they were sitting for months without anything to do,” Fusco said. “They didn’t have Xbox or TV, and they invented this art form.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 ended the trade and production of new scrimshaws — with an exception for some native tribes in Alaska.

The modern scrimshaw carving in plastic introduces children to conservation.

“We try to get them to talk about what they can do to protect ocean life,” Fusco said.

Next to the scrimshaw table, Gina Van Bell, a museum educator, held up an ivory colored sperm whale tooth that was bigger than a child’s hand.

“Do you know what this is?” Van Bell asked a child looking at a table laid out with teeth from whales, sharks and a killer whale. Pointing to a hole in the tooth, she said, “This is a cavity.”

Holding real teeth in their hands helps children connect to the ocean.

“The ocean is a great place of mystery,” Van Bell said. “You can’t see these every day.”

The event was sponsored by a local dentist and an orthodontist, and a woman dressed up as the tooth fairy handed out toothbrushes to kids so they could take care of their own, smaller teeth.

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