IDAHO FALLS — Earth was a very different planet at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago, with dinosaurs stalking across the land and giant aquatic creatures ruling the seas. A new exhibit opening this weekend at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls takes visitors back, putting the real-life sea monsters from the time front and center.
“Dinos of the Deep” features fossilized remains of 36 ancient creatures, including giant turtles, airplane-size flying reptiles, giant carnivorous fish and much more. These creatures were lurking in the depths of the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient body of water that once bisected North America.
“At the same time that T-Rex was roaming around Montana, these creatures were swimming in the inland sea,” MOI exhibits director Rod Hansen told EastIdahoNews.com. “I’ve driven across Kansas or flown over it fifty different times and I’ve never thought about large fish 11 – 15 feet long being in that vicinity. But the Interior Seaway split North America in half east and west and hosted all kinds of aquatic creatures.”
Most of the fossils on display with “Dinos of the Deep” were pulled out of Kansas and the Dakotas, areas that would have been underwater during the Cretaceous Period.
“It’s been fun learning about this Western Interior Seaway,” said MOI executive director Jeff Carr. “Looking at maps, and we have maps in the exhibit, we here in eastern Idaho were sort of beachfront property during this part of the Cretaceous Period. We might wonder why we in Idaho don’t have some of the same dinosaur finds that they have in Montana, Wyoming and Utah. My understanding is that that’s part of it right there. But it’s fun to see these creatures and think ‘These were not very far away.’”
An important distinction that needs to be made is that while the exhibit is called “Dinos of the Deep,” most of these animals were not fish, but marine reptiles, that didn’t possess the ability to walk upright on land. That made life interesting for some of these creatures that had to occasionally come onto dry land.
“You think about the giant turtles,” said Hansen. “They had to beach themselves, crawl up on whatever sand there was, dig a nest and lay eggs. 3.5 tons, dragging themselves up the beach to lay eggs and then back to the water – it’s hard to imagine. But that’s how it happened.”
“What’s amazing to me about this exhibit is that, to my knowledge, it’s the only exhibit that explores this (Western Interior Seaway) region so thoroughly, and the fossil representation is phenomenal,” Hansen added. “My hope is that this will be a great experience for people for an hour or two while they’re in the museum but I want to see them dig deeper when they leave the museum.”
“Dinos of the Deep” also brings the Museum of Idaho full circle in a way. The museum celebrated its 20th anniversary on Feb. 18th and its first traveling exhibit was “A T-Rex Named Sue,” which also featured dinosaurs.
“We have some exciting stuff coming up all year long,” said Carr. “That includes a 20th Anniversary exhibit that we will be opening in March alongside ‘Dinos of the Deep’ and (the permanent exhibit) ‘Way Out West.’ This exhibit will go into the 20-year history of our traveling exhibits and bringing the world to Idaho.”