Spitsbergen Expedition: Ancient “Flipper’s” Flipper

2011 Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum is currently leading a fossil-finding expedition to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, continuing the work that has yielded many spectacular fossils through the years (Giant “Sea Monster” Fossil Discovered). Follow the expedition here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.

Day 8

We woke up today boiling in our sleeping bags. The sun was shining brightly and we even enjoyed breakfast outside with our sleeves rolled up.

The younger team members gather for breakfast. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


After a bit of a slow morning, most of the group wandered over accompanied by a visiting group of geomorphologists to Konus Valley. Jørn and Stig stayed near camp to finish off plastering the jackets of “Gully”, a plesiosaur fossil found last year that we started uncovering at the beginning of the trip.

Work in Konus Valley was hot for the first part of the day, but being ten people we managed to progress on our excavations a fair amount. We finished the plesiosaur fossil and started filling in the massive hole we created for excavating it. The ichthyosaur fossil nicknamed “Virgin” (named because of the untouched hillside in which it lay), had some more surprises in store for us. Lene uncovered a fantastic front paddle in excellent shape (see video below).

The paddle is an interesting part of the skeleton for us to compare with other ichthyosaur specimens, so this was quite a find. We trenched around the fossil and covered the top with plaster to protect it from drying out.

One of the other fossils from Konus Valley we have been working on, is a back end of an ichthyosaur nicknamed “Gypsy”, and we pretty much finished excavating it today. The tail continued quite deep into the mountainside, and we hit the permafrost pretty quick. As excavating through permafrost is a time consuming business, it looks like we might have to leave part of it, as we will not have enough time to continue. Anyway Øyvind had fun using the chainsaw to trench around “Gypsy”, which is a lot a quicker than trenching by hand. So we are ready for more plastering tomorrow!

Sun streaks through the cloud layer to give the world a "heavenly feeling." Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


The weather forecast is not looking good for the next few days, and looks like we might get some snow. So we have to work hard tomorrow to get everything that needs protection ready for the bad weather.



Meet the Author
Jørn Harald Hurum was born in Drammen, a city on southeastern Norway. Since childhood he has collected fossils and minerals in the Oslo region. Since 2000 he has been employed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo where he works as an associate professor in vertebrate paleontology. At the University he teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology and supervises masters and Ph.D. students. One recent outreach effort brought him on stage before a general audience interested in his Arctic island project excavating fossils of ancient sea monsters. “There was a four-year-old in the front row and he couldn’t stop asking questions, really good questions” Hurum remembers. “This little boy was so excited to know there was somebody else who understood the things he was wondering about. He made my whole day! As a child, I felt very alone with my interest in fossils. Finally at age 13, I discovered there was a museum in Norway that actually employed people to study paleontology. I started corresponding with those scientists and it was such a relief, such an inspiration. I hope I can give some of that spirit back to the next generation.” Learn More About Jørn and His Work