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Little Dinosaur Gets a Big Reception in Japan

Skeleton of "Joe"

Skeleton of “Joe”

After a journey spanning 75 million years and bridging the Pacific Ocean, a dinosaur skeleton discovered by a Webb student and housed at the Alf Museum made its international debut in Tokyo. The fossil, which has already been viewed by more than 300,000 people, is one of the highlighted specimens in the 2016 Dinosaur Expo, coordinated by The Asahi Shimbun Company and the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

“Dinosaur Joe” was discovered in 2009 by Kevin Terris ‘09, on a Summer Peccary Trip in Utah. It turned out to be the youngest, smallest, and most complete example of the plant-eating dinosaur Parasaurolophus. After excavation in 2010, the fossil was published in the scientific literature in 2013, with accompanying international press attention. It was this media spotlight that caught the eye of the organizers of the Dinosaur Expo in Japan. The traveling exhibition aims to highlight recent discoveries worldwide, showcasing groundbreaking work within dinosaur paleontology. They contacted the Alf Museum, and began the process of arranging for the fossil’s transport to Japan.

Shipping a dinosaur skeleton across the Pacific is no small matter. First, permission had to be secured from the United States Bureau of Land Management, because the fossil was discovered and collected under permit within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Alf Museum is the caretaker for the specimen, so international loan of the fossil required clearance from the federal government. Once this was secured, planning for the next phase began—how do you safely ship a 75 milion year old dinosaur skeleton?

Loading "Joe" onto the airplane

Loading “Joe” onto the airplane

A team coordinated by Masterpiece International, an exhibit and fine art shipping and logistics firm, designed and built a custom crate to hold “Joe”. Collections manager Gabe Santos and collections assistant Lucy Herrero ‘10 made sure that the fossil was stable and ready for transport. The skeleton was carefully loaded into this crate, and then driven to Los Angeles International Airport for security inspections. The skull, which required special handling, was hand-carried by Augustyn Family Curator Andy Farke. With the skeleton safely stowed in a Japan Airlines cargo hold, and Farke seated up above in the passenger compartment, “Joe” took off for an eleven hour flight to Tokyo. After arrival and unloading, the fossil cleared customs, and then headed over to the National Museum of Nature and Science.

“Dinosaur Joe” was installed just in time for the Dinosaur Expo’s grand opening on March 7. “Joe” was exhibited with many prehistoric friends, including a baby horned dinosaur, gigantic skeletons of Tyrannosaurus and Spinosaurus, and even dinosaur feathers in amber. Advertisements for the exhibition could be seen across Tokyo, and the exhibit opening was widely covered in the Japanese press. Even miniature “Joe” figurines were available in the exhibit gift shop! Over 2,700 people visited the expo in its first day alone, and upwards of 20,000 visitors attended on peak weekends, with over an hour wait to enter the exhibit hall. Within three weeks, attendance had topped 100,000 people, and currently over 500,000 people have seen “Joe”.

"Joe" on exhibit in Tokyo, with curator Dr. Andy Farke

“Joe” on exhibit in Tokyo, with curator Dr. Andy Farke

After finishing its run in Tokyo on June 12, “Joe” traveled with the rest of the expo to Osaka. From here, the exhibition will finish its run in Kitakyushu. “Joe” will return to the Alf Museum in January 2017.

This international exposure for the Alf Museum and the paleontology program at The Webb Schools is unprecedented. “The display of ‘Dinosaur Joe’ in Japan is an exciting validation of all the work we have done over the past twenty years to put our nationally accredited museum on the international stage,” said museum director Dr. Don Lofgren. “To think that our students have the opportunity to find, excavate, and study specimens of this caliber is a testament to all the support we have received in our drive to create a world class educational and research institution at Webb.”

For more information on Dinosaur Joe, check out the official website! To learn how to visit “Joe” in Japan, see the Dinosaur Expo page.