Sea Monsters 2013: Death of a Summer Blog

In 2012, the Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group led by National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jørn Hurum finished off their final field season on Svalbard. After eight consecutive years, the project of locating and excavating marine reptiles from the Upper Jurassic has been a success. Nevertheless, the team is not as dead as the reptiles. Down in the dark basement of the Geological Museum there is a laboratory, where all the prehistoric sea monsters from Svalbard are brought back to life.

By Aubrey Roberts & Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

After a summer of hard work, our time here down in the Sea Monster lab at the Geology Museum in Oslo has ended. Now we can start wearing nail varnish and clothes not covered in superglue. The race to excavate fossils is over for the time being, and we have (nearly) completed our mission. The preparation of the plesiosaur Gully and the ichthyosaur Mikkel are pretty much finished. Altogether, an estimated time of 1700 hours has been put down by our three team members to get the specimens nice and shiny.

So how was the summer overall? Well, no one got sunburnt. We did get some blisters from the superglue, but physical injuries come with the territory. And not only for the humans! After preparation, Mikkel was more slender and fragile than ever. Finding a free spot in which to store him was not easy. Getting the poor ichthyosaur back through the lab door was an even greater challenge now that we could flip him on the side no more. What to do? That was a decision for the boss, Jørn.

His solution was a dramatic one. So dramatic that we’ll simply let the photo below tell the story.

Sawin’ off them too-big ribs. Only Jørn could do this procedure without breaking down, crying for all the pains-taking hours of careful preparation spent in vain. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Roberts.

Back to Society

So with our summer lab work done, the school semester has begun. Victoria has returned to Trondheim to complete her undergraduate degree at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Aubrey has moved to Southampton to start on her PhD on Svalbard plesiosaurs. And while we may have left behind some pretty amazing specimens in Norway, we don’t have to travel far to experience spectacular traces of the past elsewhere (and so much more conveniently than in the Arctic). How about a pleasant stroll along the English coast, picking up dinosaur footprints as you go?

Livin' the paleo-dream. Aubrey with dinosaur foot-prints on the Isle of Wight. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Roberts
Livin’ the paleo-dream. Aubrey with dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Wight. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Roberts

 Aurora Bonealis

So poor May-Liss is left to fend for herself in the lab, with no dubstep music or our continuous flow of humor to keep her entertained. That is, at least till Christmas. When exams are over and the northern lights flare up the skies (or at least when they would if it were not for light pollution), we will be back. Back at least for some days, to watch the snow falling (did the reptiles ever experience snow in this chilly ocean, we wonder?), trying not to confuse crumbly bones with ginger bread.

May-Liss, fending for herself with the last "Gully" jacket. Photo courtesy of Jørn Hurum.
May-Liss, fending for herself with the last “Gully” jacket. Photo courtesy of Jørn Hurum.

Waiting for Summer

And there will be more summers. We still have countless specimens left to prepare (no one remembers how many), and some of the most exciting specimens are next in line. Who knows? Rumor has it that maybe next year we will be revealing some sensational findings.

Life in the Sea Monster Lab is over for us for the time being. If you are interested in more information about the project, you can watch the National Geographic Channel documentary on our expeditions here.

Read all the SeaMonsters 2013 blog posts


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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