City College gets Academy's old fossils

April 2, 2009 7:51:41 PM PDT
If you've been to visit the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, you may have wondered what ever happened to some of the full-size dinosaur skeletons. They're no longer there.

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One large prehistoric fish lived 85 million years ago. The Xiphactinus was 20-feet long.

"This is the one that would have eaten all of the other, what we consider to be large predators now, like sharks. This one could even jump out of the water," said Katryn Wiese, from the Earth sciences department at City College.

Some marine predators, living during the dinosaur age could do the same.

A rare full-size cast skeleton of a Xiphactinus exists today at San Francisco City College in the Earth sciences department. There are other impressive pieces for students and now the general public to see for free.

Not so long ago all these pieces were housed in the old Academy of Sciences. When the museum closed the staff knew there would be no room for them in the new academy.

The Academy believed their "Life Through Time" exhibit would be better told using living things instead of through dinosaur models or cast skeletons.

Even though their Tyrannosaurus Rex is still there, City College inherited most of their other pieces. The larger one is called a Dilophosaurus. It lived 150 million years ago and in the movie "Jurassic Park" we saw what it may have looked like.

Katryn Wiese is a professor at the Earth sciences department at City College. When Weise realized the Academy was closing, she convinced them to donate some of their informational panels and posters for students to look at. She ended up getting a lot more during those last few days.

"The fish out there, they are actually carving out of the wall with blow torches because it is in there with metal. They don't totally know what to do with all these things but they have to get them out right away, so they offered us as many as we could possibly carry," said Wiese.

Remember the murals that once lived at the academy? Those too were a last minute give-away.

"We had no intention of having these murals. They were given to us on the day we picked up the dinosaurs because they had no other home and they sat here for almost five years with no intention of installing them until this last summer," said Wiese.

Of course the full-size cast skeletons are not the real bones. Fossils are too precious and heavy to mount. Casts are the imprints of the real fossils, using a very fine grain of silicon rubber. The bones are usually in storage and preserved in places like the Academy's research center and Cal's Museum of Paleontology.

The cast skeletons are often used for research purposes; the Plesiosaur is a popular one among scientists.

"And people would come to the Academy and try to measure the skull because we had one of the best casts here in the Bay Area. And now City College has it," said Carol Tang, Ph.D., from the California Academy of Sciences.

This is only one of a few full Plesiosaurs in existence today. They are the ones which have inspired the tale of the Lushness Monster. It was found in the Panoche Hills in Merced County. The collection has now given City College bragging rights.

"It's nice to look at. It's nice to gain some knowledge about what was in the past, dinosaurs, evolution and things like that," said Zaire Paterson, a City College student.

"I think it does add prestige because this is a community college and you don't see that in a lot of community colleges," said Daisy Ozim, a City College student.

"If we can inspire the next generation of scientists at City College then we would feel very proud of what we have been able to accomplish together," said Tang.

And for those of you wondering what ever happened to the Academy's whale fountain, remembered by so many. City College got that one too. It's in storage until the college can raise the $250,000 it will take to restore it.

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