This is a transcript of Episode 9: Em Blamey Talks Sea Monsters.
Travis Holland 0:06
Welcome to Fossils and Fiction, a podcast exploring cultural and scientific ideas about dinosaurs.
Hi, I’m Travis Holland. Today on Fossils and Fiction, we’re talking plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs. More specifically, I chat with Em Blamey, who is the creative producer for the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour Sydney. The museum currently has an exhibition called ‘Sea Monsters’, featuring a wide array of prehistoric oceanic life. It’s opened in Sydney from now until mid August and will then tour to Newcastle, Western Australia and Townsville.
Hi Em, welcome to Fossils and Fiction.
Em Blamey 1:08
Hi, Travis. Thanks for having me.
Travis Holland 1:10
And you are the creative producer for the Australian National Maritime Museum. Tell me about that job.
Em Blamey 1:17
It is an awesome job. Basically, I get to create interactive exhibitions and experiences for the Maritime Museum. And I love it because I’m always learning new things depending what topic the exhibitions on, and then working out cool ways that I can share them with people. So it’s very creative. And you get to see your ideas brought to life and get to see people enjoying them, which is fantastic.
Travis Holland 1:41
Yeah, absolutely. Now I remember going to the Maritime Museum as a kid. I think lots of primary schools do tours there. And my main memory is the retired submarine floating there in Darling Harbour, I had never considered that there might be a chance to meet a mosasaur. So you’re here to tell me about the sea monsters exhibition. Tell us all about it.
Em Blamey 2:03
Okay, well, I sort of feel I almost shouldn’t be on this podcast, because obviously, it’s not about dinosaurs.
Travis Holland 2:11
That’s okay. I had a good chat with Adam Yates about Australian megafauna. Anything that’s big and dead suits me fine.
Unknown Speaker 2:17
Okay. Definitely big. And definitely did. And yes, this is the dinosaur exhibition you can do if you work in a maritime museum. So yes, it was a lot of fun. So the sea monsters, it’s called “Sea Monsters: Prehistoric Ocean Predators”. So it basically told you what it is. And it starts out by explaining that the ancient oceans are a really scary place, because basically, everyone in there was a predator. Unlike sort of on land where a lot of the really big dinosaurs were were herbivores. Everyone in the ocean was a predator. Everybody ate somebody because it was not like there were trees and other things for them to eat.
Travis Holland 3:00
They did live with very different plan life.
Unknown Speaker 3:04
Yep. So see, the exhibition then goes on to introduce the three main groups of prehistoric marine reptiles that rule the waves, so to speak, they’re ichthyosaurus, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs and explains, which I found interesting when when I discovered it, that they like whales and dolphins, they all actually started on land and went back to the oceans. So they had to evolve and adapt to a marine environment.
Travis Holland 3:31
Yeah, a sort of. Not that it’s getting any less complex. But you know, we often think of evolution in these kind of linear terms. And that’s going the other direction. Back into the sea.
Em Blamey 3:43
Yeah. Oh, here’s a resource that we’ve forgotten about. Let’s go. Let’s go.
Travis Holland 3:48
Yeah, absolutely. What are some of the specimens you have on show there?
Em Blamey 3:55
So we’ve got, we’ve got a mix of real fossils, and then casts and replicas and even some 3d prints of real fossils. Because basically real fossils are heavy and they’re part of the tour and a lot of places don’t want to loan them. But we’ve real fossils we’ve got we’ve got specimens from all main groups, plus we’ve got some turtles and some sharks. Most of them are from Queensland because that’s a great place to find marine reptiles in Australia, because they used to be a massive inland sea there whre all these guys lived. So probably the one of the largest real fossils we feature is a section of the jaw of a Kronosaurus that was found out in Boulia in outback Queensland, and the sea monsters exhibition is the first time it’s ever been on display. And Kronosaurus were these massive sort of 10 meter, plesiosaurs. They’re named after the Greek Titan Kronos who ate his children, because they were basically, everything they found, [with] other plesiosaur bones in their stomachs so they yeah, they weren’t against a bit of cannibalism
Travis Holland 5:05
A sort of suitably monstrous name.
Em Blamey 5:07
Pretty Pretty, yeah pretty monstrous creature. So, yeah, that’s a nice nice specimen but we’ve also got, you know, casts of full 13 made along elasmosaurs you know that looks like Loch Ness Monster and we’ve got the skull because we couldn’t fit any more in of the Shastasaurus, it’s the biggest ichthyosaur, which are the biggest sea monsters we’ve found yet. So yeah, we got a mixture of really really big things and then you know, just little things like little teeth and stuff. So yeah,
Travis Holland 5:39
There’s teeth, teeth seems to be a very prominent or popular specimen of some of these creatures. Even my local museum has a collection of Mosasaur teeth on show.
Em Blamey 5:50
I think I think mosasaurs shed their teeth a bit like sharks, I think there’s a lot of them to be found. So yes, we’ve got a few we’ve got the, the ones I like the Globiden’s teeth, which is a type of mosasaurs but they have like little button teeth because they ate Ammonites and things in hardshell. So they have more crushing teeth and biting teeth. So I quite like them. They’re cute
Travis Holland 6:12
Teeth to crush and grind. And elasmosaurus were featured in Prehistoric Planet recently. So people might have seen them already there. I gather a lot of these are on loan from the Queensland Museum. Is that right? That come from the collections there? Or where else do they come from?
Em Blamey 6:28
Oh, yeah, some of the real fossils are from Queensland Museum, they’ve been really helpful in helping us develop the exhibition because we’ve got very few in our own collection. And then we have been lent some by some private collectors as well. And some we’ve purchased. But yeah, mostly Queensland Museum, I worked with a lovely paleontologist there called Espen Knutson, who’s discovered a lot of prehistoric marine reptiles all over the world. So he’s an absolute wealth of knowledge.
Travis Holland 6:58
What stories you’re trying to tell in this exhibition, you mentioned, talking about the dangers of the oceans? How do you kind of progress through them?
Em Blamey 7:07
So the main trouble I had in developing this is what not to tell, because it seemed like every time I read something new, I found out something else that was really cool. So there’s, yeah, lots of stories basically, about how they adapted their marine environment, what happened to them, so that, you know, when they went extinct, what then what took over from them in our oceans. And it also talks about how we know these things. So what clues there are in the fossil record, and how we interpret them, so for example, there’s some [inaudible] or coprolites in there, and you can look at them and see the little fish scales in them. And then there’s a there’s a specimen of the fish you go that had those scales, so you can go you know, by looking at this poo, we can tell what they ate. So there’s a bit of that sort of working out how we how we know things and also with those a little bit of discussion about what we don’t know, you know, some of the behavioral stuff that we can only guess that based on other animals and people, ah, creatures that live in similar niches, but we don’t know.
Travis Holland 7:14
You so you mentioned those coprolites. They’ve some of those on the show as well, or,
Em Blamey 8:23
Yes, we’ve got we’ve got plenty of poo. Always popular
Travis Holland 8:27
Popular with children. Absolutely.
Em Blamey 8:31
And our big mosasaur sneezes as well, which is another very popular thing. There’s a button you can press because one thing we don’t know is how they we don’t know for sure is how they got rid of salt from their from their systems. But given that marine iguanas sneeze it out, we figured, let’s have our mosasaur sneeze.
Travis Holland 8:51
Is that an animatronic? Or?
Em Blamey 8:55
No, it’s a push button sound effect. It’s very cute.
Travis Holland 8:59
What, in addition to the actual fossils there, what else is part of the exhibition that people can come and have a look at?
Em Blamey 9:06
So there’s, there’s interactives, where you can derive anything, you can design your own sea monster and then release it into the wall and see if it would survive, depending on what adaptations you’ve given it.
Travis Holland 9:18
Bit Jurassic Park.
Em Blamey 9:20
Yeah, yeah, not quite that gory. But yes. You can. You can try the different swimming mechanisms. Because what’s interesting is that, you know, the three separate groups or yeah, all readapted to the marine environment. So they all they all had to learn to swim, but they all developed very different techniques with swimming, which I found quite interesting. So there’s an interactive where you get to sort of try out, you can try swimming like an ichthyosaurs versus like a Mosasaur. And a plesiosaurs swam like no other creature ever has no one else has done it since what they do so that’s quite interesting. One of my absolute favorite stories and fossils is how – went – how it was confirmed that the ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young. Because they’ve they found a fossil that’s in a museum in Stuttgart, now of, of a fetus actually coming out for the next year. So obviously, they prophesized that they must do because they couldn’t go ashore and lay eggs like turtles do, and most reptiles do lay eggs, but they hypothesized that they in the ocean, they must give birth to live young, but then they this is a, then they actually found that in the fossil record was very exciting.
Travis Holland 10:42
And similar to modern day sharks.
Em Blamey 10:46
Yeah, and um, and dolphins. So we’ve got some footage of dolphin because similar to dolphins, obviously, they breathe air, so they give birth tail first so that the last thing out is the head. And as soon as it’s out, it can swim up to the surface and take a breath. So that’s a great specimen. And because the real one was in Stuttgart, what we actually managed to do was get a lovely guy called Heinrich over there to take tons and tons of photographs of it and create a 3d photogrammetary model of the real specimen. And then we could actually 3d print it in this stone like material. So it feels like it’s made of stone in a real fossil. But it actually comes from a digital file. But it’s great means you can touch it, and you could really feel the bones and see the fetus and. No, it’s a great specimen.
Travis Holland 11:36
It gives you a real opportunity to get that tactile sense without you know, running the risk of damaging the fossil or having to transport it across the world. And that means it can be on the show anywhere all at once basically.
Em Blamey 11:49
Absolutely and yeah and even compared to taking a cast which can result in damaging a fossil and and does require them being off display. All they had to do in this case was was literally lift the cover off it so he could he could take photographs and then put it back so yeah, it’s it’s new technology is making it a lot easier.
Travis Holland 12:10
Alright, are there any other special events or things that people should look out for if they’re planning to visit Sea Monsters?
Em Blamey 12:18
Oh, we’ve got if this if this goes online in time, there’s a fantastic creative workshop on being on the 13th and 14th of July during the school holidays where eight to 14 year olds can spend the day learning how to cast fossil replicas. Which sounds awesome. I’m tempted to join in. And then on certain days, during the school holidays as well, there will be roaming plesiosaur puppets you can interact with. But all the details are on our website, which is www.sea. – as in S-E-A -dot museum.
Travis Holland 12:54
And I gather that’s where people can go if they want to find out more and get tickets. Correct?
Em Blamey 12:59
Absolutely or yes, you can buy them on the day. But if you if you buy them in advance, you probably save a bit of queueing.
Travis Holland 13:05
Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything else you want to tell us about the exhibition before I let you go?
Em Blamey 13:11
Only that if you’re not able to come and see it in Sydney. Don’t panic, because it’s also going to be continuing its national tour after it’s been here. So I’m not exactly sure the order but it will be in Newcastle. It will be in Townsville and over in WA so there’ll be opportunities to see it wherever you are.
Travis Holland 13:31
Oh fantastic, well, I’ll make sure I get some of those, some of those details and we’ll publish them in the show notes so people all around the country can get along and see Sea Monsters by the Australian National Maritime Museum. Em Blamey, thank you so much for your time.
Em Blamey 13:44
Thank you No problem.
Travis Holland 13:50
Thanks to Em Blamey for that wonderful conversation. For more information about the sea monsters exhibition, visit the maritime museum’s website sea.museum
Thank you for listening to the Fossils and Fiction podcast produced by me Travis Holland with the support of Charles Sturt University. The podcast theme music is Sonora by Quincas Moreia via the YouTube Audio Library. Find more content on our social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok show notes are available on the website fossilsfiction.co You can subscribe to the podcast on all major podcasting platforms.
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