Canadian dinosaur hunter honoured for years of achievement
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012 12:53PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 10:56PM EST
They roamed the earth millions of years ago, but Canada’s most-famed dinosaur hunter says now is the time to be studying the fascinating creatures.
Palaeontologist Philip Currie says it’s the golden age of dinosaur research with more scientists, more funding and more interest than ever before.
“When I started my career, there were two jobs in all of Canada, and both were occupied by pretty young people,” Currie, now 63, told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
The same was true globally. Currie said when starting out in the field in the 1970s, there were about a dozen people hunting for dinosaur fossils worldwide. Today, there are about 125.
He points to the 1993 release of Jurassic Park as a boon for the field of palaeontology, and says interest in dinosaurs continues to grow. “Young kids influenced and inspired by Jurassic Park are now grown up, graduated from university and there are more researchers than ever before.”
And on Wednesday, Currie will be recognized for his research with a lifetime achievement award from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
His career includes so many dinosaur finds that funding is currently underway to support the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which is anticipated to open in July 2013 in northwestern Alberta. Currie also helped found the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alta.
Throughout a career marked with numerous accomplishments, Currie said the discovery of dinosaur embryos during an Alberta dig in 1987 remains his most exciting find.
“At some point, I picked up a lower jaw, looked at it and saw all the teeth in there and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he recalled. “So much so that I dropped it on the ground, rubbed my eyes and picked it up again.”
In receiving the award Wednesday, Currie’s studies on the group behaviour of dinosaurs and their migration patterns will also be recognized.
Currie said similarities in fossils discovered in mass dinosaur graves in Alberta and Mongolia got him thinking about the creatures’ migration patterns.
“We know that dinosaurs lived up in the Arctic and, while things didn’t freeze as much then, it certainly got cold in the winter,” said Currie, adding that the lack of sunlight would have killed off vegetation, forcing dinosaurs to look for food elsewhere.
“At the time, dinosaurs would move in big groups south,” he explained. “Because North America and Asia were connected at the time, if they moved to the west, they’d end up in Asia; and if they moved to the east, they’d end up in North America.”
Based in Alberta, Currie said Canada is home to the world’s best dinosaur site – Dinosaur Provincial Park, located 50 kilometres outside of Calgary.
Currie said five per cent of the world’s known dinosaurs were found in the park, and researches continue discover new fossils and species on the expansive land.
“With a history of 150 million years and worldwide in distribution, it really is very remarkable,” Currie said of the rich dinosaur site.
He said another five per cent of known dinosaur species are located in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
“That’s 10 per cent of the world’s known dinosaurs in two sites,” said the University of Alberta professor. “That tells you that we don’t know an awful lot about the history dinosaur and we’re really in our infancy in trying to figure out their evolutionary history.”