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> July 31, 2006 - Grizzly Bears are Curious Creatures, Animals are full of surprises
post Aug 1 2006, 03:06 AM
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Tomorrow the remaining members of the research team will depart Fairbanks on a charter plane to Umiat. Umiat will be the staging point for the expedition down the Colville River. Over dinner we discussed the final details of trip and one topic drew a lot of interest – bears. Everyone I talk to has a bear story. The most important step to prevent an encounter with a bear is minimizing attracting them. For example, it is a bad idea to sleep with a pepperoni stick in your tent. Bears have a great sense of smell and an intense curiosity. As we took inventory of what guns each person would carry, Paul mentioned that he never heard of a bear attacking a person in their tent.

Guess what the headline in the newspaper read this morning? The front page reads, “Sleeping bag and all: Bear attacks man inside a tent.” Fantastic! What a great news item to embed in my mind before heading into the field. To take my mind off bears, I chatted about dinosaurs with Pete during our running around town. Pete, a graduate student at the University of Fairbanks, stated the dinosaur bed we will work at is really puzzling. First, most of dinosaur fossils found at the site are juveniles. The event that killed these dinosaurs appears selective – sparing adult dinosaurs. If the event was a flash flood, dinosaurs of all ages should be found. Why were only young dinosaurs killed?

Pete is interested in the sediments encasing the bones. He mentioned that the sediments are not indicative of a flash flood. The sediments at the site are all very fine grained. If it was a flash flood, he would expect to find a variety of sediment sizes. Our conversation eventually drifted to the ecosystem of the dinosaurs and how they survived the long dark Arctic winters. Did the dinosaurs migrate south before the Arctic winter took hold? Did the dinosaurs have unusual adaptations for the cold and darkness? Our conversation was interpreted by a large Raven screaming from atop a lamppost at Fred Meyers. Pete said, “You should see those things in the winter. Their feather become very dense to the point they look comical. It can be 40 degree below zero outside and you see this little head sticking out of a big ball of black feather. It is amazing they survive.”

Could this Raven provide a clue about the Arctic dinosaurs? Is there any chance some of these dinosaurs were feathered? Tomorrow, on the flight to Umiat, I hope to ask some of the experts. At the very least, maybe I can learn more about these unique dinosaurs as we soar over the Brooks Range and descend onto Alaska’s North Slope.

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The red line represents the flight path we will take from Fairbanks to Umiat.
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