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We recently attended an interesting lecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara on a lovely Sunday afternoon (April 3); perfect for the driving up to Santa Barbara. The lecture which had fascinated us was given by paleontologist, Nizar Ibrahim and thrilled us with excitement and uncovered mysteries.  The great mystery of his lecture was in discovering the “Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous.” It was one of the “Live!” National Geographic series that has been ongoing for several years at UCSB. Nizar has always had a fascination with animals since he was a child and this led him to his later love of prehistoric animals that roamed the earth.

He is not the only person to have been captured by this fascination. In fact, sometime between 1910 and 1914 a man named Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, a Bavarian aristocrat, found 45 different taxa of dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles and fish somewhere in the Egyptian Sahara. Among Ernst’s finds were two partial skeletons of a new dinosaur, a gigantic predator with yard-long jaws bristling with interlocking conical teeth. It had six-foot sail-like spiny structures supporting its back and was thus called Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. The specimen found by Ernst was the most complete specimen and was considered to be the very best example of this “new” species. This species also captured Nizar’s attention many years later.

Ernst Stromer with one of the fossils from his collection.

The Spinosaurus‘s value and ability to change the direction of our understanding of the prehistoric world was almost immediately recognized by Ernst who. . . during World War I, tried to save this one of a kind fossil and many other important fossils in his collection in Munich. However during an air raid most of the museum and nearly all of Stromer’s fossils were destroyed by the bombers! Tantalizingly though the things that were left behind were some of his field notes, drawings, and sepia-toned photos that still remained. These images and documents provided an illusive clue and glimpse to many paleontologists about the past of our world. It was these images and these stories that captured Nizar, as he was studying at the University of Bristol.

He came across Stromer’s work and decided to someday try to locate the area in the Sahara where these fossils might still remain. His university fieldwork took him to Erfoud, Morocco several times. But in 2008, while at a street-front cafe in Erfoud, the hunt for this illusive fossil was one step closer. Nizar met a fossil hunter Bedouin who brought with him a big box. Nizar examined the contents of this box and immediately realized that these pieces clearly belonged to the Spinosaurus. After he offered to purchase them for possible use for the University of Casablanca’s paleontology collection he continued his search.

That very next year when he was in Milan, Italy he was shown a partial skeleton of a large dinosaur (acquired by a fossil dealer). It too was Spinosaurus! Nizar thought back to the specimens he had previously purchased in Morocco and realized quickly that the stories of the two fossils collected matched in many ways. It was highly possible that the two sets were from the same area of excavation! And if he found the exact spot, there would be more opportunities to explore further and learn more about this animal. But first he needed to find the Bedouin that sold him the box in 2008 to help locate the excavation location. After graduating with his doctorate, he began to research and ended up in the same street-front cafe in Erfoud, Morocco along with two of his colleagues. This time he was trying to track down a Bedouin (fossil hunter) who could solve a mystery that was his obsession since childhood. He noticed a mustached man rush past him and he felt some familiarity so he got up and chased after him. Sure enough it was the Bedouin that sold him the box. The Bedouin took them to the excavation site that at one time was a river bank. They found more specimens of the Spinosaurus and after much close study determined that it spent more time in water than walking on land. The discovery has allowed more knowledge about this prehistoric creature. To learn more go to Nizar Ibrahim’s website at www.nizaribrahim.net and/or on Facebook at facebook.com/natgeolive.

Additional Details on Spinosaurus:

Spinosaurus: The Swimming Dino

The Spinosaurus is now considered the first of it’s kind to be discovered by paleontologists.  A first true aquatic dinosaur! Other “aquatic dinosaurs” of the past are merely aquatic reptiles not true dinosaurs like the Spinosaurus which we believe would have hunted large stingray like sea-creatures . . . Possibly in a similar way to how modern day herons and other water foul hunt fish. Beak/jaws waiting either in the water or hovering just above and feeling/sensing the movements of the prey below the waters surface! And then suddenly and terribly striking and hopefully snagging a tasty meal after their patient waiting!

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