So You Wanna Be a Dino Hunter?
The advice given from leading universities would be to take multiple math and science courses in high school, and do dinosaur projects on the side for science fairs and such. Then, if you’re serious about pursuing a career as a dino hunter, follow that up with a string of degrees – the Paleontological Research Institution suggests a double major in biology and geology. And a good reading knowledge of German, French or Russian comes in handy. Also, a grounding in statistical analysis along with solid computer skills. And…
Or. You could just take a long walk and keep your eyes down. Seriously. Because ordinary folks with an interest in fossils and a keen eye have been responsible for some of the most famous dinosaur finds in Western Canada, and they have earned the dino names to prove it!
There’s a big, bad ancient world out there
Talk to people who grew up in Southern Alberta, and you’ll be amazed how many have stories about dino bones and fossils. Some remember rolling Ammonite fossils, which today are mined to make gemstone-quality jewelry (Ammolite), down coulees into rivers, or as ballast for their canoe.
“Growing up in Warner, Ab, we were always finding pieces of dinosaurs as kids,” says Candace, the mom of the fascinated little dino hunter in the picture. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Today, digging up dino bones is against the rules, since it ruins the opportunity for scientists to learn from your find. Dinosaurs, are dated not by the fossils themselves, but by the ground in which they lie! So if you DO find a T. rex head sticking out of a hillside, report it to any of the universities or museums in this guide and they’ll send someone out to have a look. Taking pictures, with your GPS turned on of course, is a great idea! Dino selfies, after all, are the height of cool.
One of the people who might arrive to check out your find is another resident of the tiny town of Warner. She DID think it was a big deal to find ‘stuff’ on the badlands when she started searching for native artifacts as a young girl. These days, she’s famous for her ability to spot fossils where others see nothing. “Some people,” says renowned dino-hunter Wendy Sloboda, “just never grow out of their childhood fascination.”
Sloboda discovered what turned out to be a clutch of dinosaur eggs on the Milk River ridge when she was just 11 years old. Wendy’s mom remembers the day clearly. “We had all gone down the hill ahead of her, and she stopped, like she always does, to look at stuff. And when she found the eggshells, she screamed! She was sitting there, practically hyperventilating.”
Today, Wendy has been called ‘one of the best dino hunters on the planet,’ and made international headlines with her recent discovery of a brand new horned species: the Wendiceratops pinhornensis. Named in her honour, the giant beast lived about eighty million years ago. Wendy was so thrilled with the honour she sports a tattoo of the beastie.
While Alberta remains her favourite hunting ground, Sloboda is headed to Greenland this summer to follow up her discovery of dino footprints there during one of her previous expeditions, which have taken her all over the world. “Right now I just do it because I enjoy it,” she says. “It’s good exercise!”
Another famous Canadian dino-hunter, Phil Currie, describes the life of a dino hunter as involving LOTS of exercise: “walk, walk, walk, walk, dig, dig, dig, back to camp for a meal.”
It can be grueling work. Paleontologist Tim Tokaryk says that, after 35 years of dino hunting, his body is worn out. But his fascination remains. While in high school, he got hooked when volunteering at Edmonton’s provincial museum. He started skipping math to work on fossil prep, but sadly the scientist in the next lab was married to his math teacher! Busted.
“When the Royal Tyrell was being created, they needed lots of helpers. And since I was big, and didn’t mind moving large objects, I got hired,” he recalls. Today, he oversees the T. rex Discovery Centre. “Within an hours drive,” he says, “I can hit almost 75 million years of continuous dinosaur history.” It’s unique because there are both land and water dinos here.
Northern Albertan teacher Al Lakusta, was out doing the ‘walk, walk, walk’ part of fossil hunting back in 1974, when he noticed what turned out to be a huge ‘bonebed’ or graveyard of dinosaurs that got the whole world excited.
Aside from getting his own dino, Lakusta inspired a campaign, in which Canadian actor Dan Ackroyd helped raise funds to build Alberta’s newest dinosaur attraction, the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. Conde Nast Traveler ranked this facility as one of the world’s most interesting new museums – the only one in Canada on the list!
While in Western Canada when you’re not looking at the great views you should be looking at the ground! Keep your head down. New dinos are waiting to be found.
By: Allen Gibson