Celebrities of the fossil world have been checking out the Comox Valley’s collection of marine fossils lately.
Courtenay Museum and Palaeontology Centre’s Pat Trask says not even two weeks ago he was surprised to see well-known palaeontologist Jack Horner — who was the technical advisor for all of the Jurassic Park films — walk through the museum doors.
“His name is probably one of the top three or four palaeontologists in North America,” says Trask, adding he’s not usually the type to be star-struck but his jaw dropped when he saw Horner.
“That guy is so famous — he’s on all the documentaries about dinosaurs, he has five crews in the field as we speak — and he had heard about Courtenay and the fossils that we’ve discovered here on Vancouver Island, so he was really excited to see them.”
Jim Haggart from the Geological Survey of Canada and Peter Ward from the University of Washington, both of whom Trask calls “top of their field,” were here during the fall looking for marine fossils on a section of beach.
He notes artist Ray Troll and director of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution Kirk Johnson were here working on a follow-up to their book Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.
“The Courtenay Museum is going to be included because they photographed a whole bunch of our collection and they were quite impressed,” adds Trask, noting these fossil experts aren’t just visiting to see what the museum has upstairs, they’re very interested in what the museum has in its basement.
“We have at least 10,000 fossils down in the basement…We have a type specimen cabinet down there too because we have new species of animals, things that have never been seen before in fossil record, and we’re finding them here on Vancouver Island.”
Trask estimates the museum has at least five or six species that have never been seen elsewhere in the world.
“So we get scientists from all over the world here,” he continues, noting the Courtenay museum has been busily building relationships with those scientists.
“Especially Japan — we have a really good connection because we share the Pacific, and it turns out that the north island of Hokkaido has the same palaeogeography, meaning it was born the same way at the same time, and it shares the Pacific, so we share a lot of common fossils.”
Meanwhile, the museum has been revamped since the fall. Some improvements include fresh paint, window improvements, and — a variety of new exhibits.
Well-known for the Elasmosaur find in 1988, the museum still features the model of large marine reptile front and centre, but now the actual fossilized creature is stretched out in a long display case below the hanging model.
Another interesting addition is a new model of the Tylosaurus, which was a member of the mosasaur family known as the T-Rex of the Sea. This marine reptile is believed to have feasted on sharks, squid and smaller mosasaurs, among other things, and it had two extra rows of teeth on the roof of its mouth, plus and double-hinged jaw allowing it to eat larger prey.
Though the model has been brought in from Manitoba, a similar animal was found near Dove Creek Road during the construction of the Inland Island Highway years ago. The fossil is incomplete, but Trask notes the jaws found match those of a mosasaur, and could possibly be those of a Tylosaurus.
The museum also offers various other new exhibits, fossil tours seven days per week, birthday parties, and summer programs for kids.
The summer programs include educational activities, behind the scenes exploration and field trips. They are offered on a variety of dates throughout July and August, and are offered in two sets to kids aged five to seven, and eight to 12.
For more information, visit www.courtenaymuseum.ca, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-334-0686.