Going on a dino hunt

Trent Ernst, Editor


On January 30, at 9 pm, Dino Hunt Canada premiers. The four-part series tells the story of eight dinosaur digs across Canada and is a celebration of the wealth of dinosaur fossils found in this country.

The show spends two episodes focusing on paleontology in the Tumbler Ridge area.

Tumbler Ridge Museum Director and Paleontologist Rich McCrea says the museum was approached by the film crew well in advance of filming and asked if they had anything interesting to tell.

Did they ever. This was two years ago now, and the crew came out in the summer of 2013. That summer, you may recall, was the year that BC’s first nearly complete dinosaur remains were recovered by the museum. “The focus of the show is on hunting dinosaurs in Canada,” says McCrea. “We’ve been very strong in this field of endeavor. They sent a crew out, and we showed them our museum. We told them about the hadrosaur, and they were very excited about being able to film the recovery of the first complete dinosaur in BC. They were also interested in the dino tracks. Not that many people in Canada are working on that.”

So these two topics—the hadrosaur and the dinosaur tracks—became the subject of two of the episodes. McCrea says he’s seen one of the episodes, and is quite pleased with the way it turned out.

“The crew were out here on and off over the summer,” says McCrea. “For the hadrosaur, they came out in the early part of the summer while we were still excavating, then they came out when we were about to lift it. They had strict orders not to give out the location of the site. In BC, there’s still no protection for fossils, but even if there were, this is the way we would deal with it. Secrecy is still the best defense when you have an open excavation, and there had recently been a vandalism on the Alberta side of the border. They made quite a deal about that in the documentary.”

McCrea says he took the film crew to a number of locations, not just the hadrosaur dig, but up to dinosaur gorge. “That is a vertical trackway site, that we may open up to the public this year. They got some good footage of us on the ropes.”

McCrea also took them out to the tyrannosaur trackway, though at the time it was embargoed. “They got me to warn everybody on camera that the footage of the tyrannosaur trackway couldn’t be used until the paper came out, which it now has.” Scientific journals, explains McCrea, live and die by the amount of splash they can get from a unique discovery. “If things get publicized before it appears in the journal, it can cause the paper to get pulled. That’s why it was embargoed.”

McCrea says the hadrosaur lift was a first for BC, but doesn’t happen very often anywhere. Typically, dinosaur bones are found in locations that are road accessible, but up here, that doesn’t happen. “They asked me why we needed helicopters. I told them to take a look at a topo map of AB and then BC, and you’ll have your answer.”

He says the shoot was a little harder on the crew than they expected, because of the remoteness and the terrain. “When you’re in AB, it’s pretty flat. In BC, it’s a tough slog. BC is one of the hardest places to do paleontological field works. Still, the whole thing went pretty well for the crew, and there were no issues moving the crew into these hard-to-reach locations.

“Nothing went wrong with the crew. What went wrong was me,” says McCrea. “Before the lift of the dinosaur, I got very ill. Probably the sickest I’ve ever been. I couldn’t swallow for a week. I was dehydrated. I couldn’t sleep. This all happened right before we were going to do this lift. It costs $72,000 to rent the helicopter time, and they were donating the money. We had one day that we could do this, but I couldn’t talk.”

It was a terrible situation, and it got worse. “It was very hot that day. And just after the specimen was lifted, I told my crew that I couldn’t help them bury the site. I could barely make it to the truck. I got into the truck and drove for about 20 minutes, then I had to pull over and I had a nap. When I woke up, I started to get dizzy. I couldn’t hear, and I couldn’t walk. The field assistant drove me to emergency. I was in pretty bad shape.”

Fortunately he survived and will be watching the show when it comes out. While he has seen the first Tumbler Ridge episode, he hasn’t seen the second, and is looking forward to seeing it when it comes out.

Dino Hunt Canada will air Fridays at 9 pm, beginning January 30. You can still help find a new nickname for the Milk River Dino by going to www.DinoHuntCanada.ca, where you’ll also find a live-streaming video feed from the Royal Ontario Museum’s Dino Lab.