Who are the people of SVP?
Members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology come from many different backgrounds and live and work all around the world. Here we highlight the life and work of one of our members so that you can get to know them better. Paleontologists that have been profiled in the past are also listed so that you can go back and get to know them as well: Past PaleoProfiles
Undergraduate education: B.A., University of Manitoba (Major: Archaeology; Minor: Zoology)
Current position: Curator, Morden and District Museum, Morden, Manitoba Canada
I have had an interest in palaeontology that stretches back to childhood and most of my working life has been in this area. Over the past 10 years I have gained experience in fossil excavation, preparation, restoration and replication. I enjoy sharing what I have learned with others and that is a large component of my job as curator.
My first field experience was out in the Drumheller badlands where the Manitoba Museum was excavating hadrosaur material. I went along as an assistant to Dr. George Lammers with the hope of learning field techniques that I might use at the Morden Museum. I spent two field seasons with the Manitoba Museum and then spent another two summers in the badlands as a tour supervisor for Exposaur Excursions, a small fossil recovery business lead by Dr. Lammers. We worked with museum groups from Dayton, and Cincinnati, Ohio, and exchanged many ideas, experiences and techniques during a most enjoyable two summers.
Mike working on hadrosaur material in Horse Thief Canyon near Drumheller. Photo courtesy of Mike Waddell.
In 1999 when I began as the Curator at the Morden Museum, we initiated a public paleontology program intended to give people a first hand experience at paleontological excavation. Most of my field work now entails leading students, tourists and special interest groups into the Pembina Hills of Southern Manitoba where we search for Cretaceous marine vertebrates such as mosasaurs and plesiosaurs.
The fun parts include the fact that I can get out into some beautiful country and help people learn a little more about paleontology. I will never tire of seeing the excited expression resulting from a found fossil. I suppose the one frustration with my present situation is the lack of time to get some excavation in myself! My main purpose is to ensure a rewarding experience for all participants, but this can be somewhat taxing.
Q & A with Mike Waddell
How/when did you first become interested in science/paleontology?
As a youngster growing up in southern Manitoba I had your typical fascination with dinosaurs. My initial attraction focused on drawing dinosaurs, and, at first, I frequently based my drawings on images in dinosaur books that I found in the local library. Before long, I was making my own dinosaur books. This interest never really left and I have managed to make fossils and paleontology a part of my adult life. I’ve been sharing my knowledge and love of fossils with people for the past 12 years. My position as Curator of the Morden Museum allows me to do this through the Museum’s educational program.
How do you spend a typical day when you are not doing fieldwork?
Fieldwork is just one aspect of my job at the Museum and generally occurs for about four months of the year. I am the only full time employee so the day to day running of the Museum falls upon me as well. I get to experience a little of everything ranging from promotions, programming, fundraising, special projects, and collections management, to just plain old maintenance and upkeep. There really is no typical day here at the Museum, something new is always on the horizon.
Mike instructing some young paleontologists during a fossil trackway exercise at the Museum’s Paleo School. Photo courtesy of Mike Waddell.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most about your work?
The very fact that I have a job in the field that interests me is an important accomplishment. There are not a lot of paleontology-related occupations in Manitoba. I suppose I am able to say that I have fulfilled, at least partially, a life-long goal to work in the area of paleontology. The most exciting aspect of my work is helping to bring a wider recognition to the Morden Museum.
What is the most difficult part of your job? What bugs you most about your work?
I would have to say that the process of finding, applying and reporting on grants is the most difficult part of my job. As with most museums, competition for funding is great. Perhaps what bugs me the most is still hearing from people, “Morden Museum? Never heard of it.” This, however, provides me with incentive to keep spreading the word about our fine fossil collection and exhibits.
What has been your most exciting discovery? What are the other important discoveries yet to be made that are of interest to you?
My favorite discovery would have to be the partial dentary of a mosasaur we found in 1998. The reason for this is that this fossil gave the Board of the Morden Museum confidence enough to initiate the paleontology field program. No fossil material had been recovered by the Museum for over 10 years so this was a bit of a milestone. That single fossil find has lead to four successful summers of programming and fossil recovery. I would like to see more fossilized giant squid found and perhaps a large Cretaceous turtle from the Morden area.
What is your favorite fossil and why?
My favorite fossil would have to be our museum’s own large Hainosaur specimen. This mosasaur is over 40 feet long and has been a showcase piece at the Museum for 20 years. It is fairly complete and is in the process of being cast and mounted in East Coulee, Alberta. When it returns in the spring or summer of 2003, it will be sure to attract a great deal of attention to our Museum.
Who do you admire most in science or the world at large?
Dr. George Lammers passed away in early 2000 and I have missed his guidance, friendship and advice ever since. Dr. Lammers was Curator of Paleontology at the Manitoba Museum for 25 years. He patiently took me on as a volunteer some 13 years ago and helped me along my path to becoming Curator at the Morden Museum.
What message would you send to “future paleontologists,” regardless of their ages?
Young paleontologists out there should know that it is not an easy path to turn your dreams into goals, and then into realities. But perhaps it is among the most rewarding paths if chosen.
To learn more about this research, follow this link to the Morden Museum.
Ask a Question
To ask Mike a question about fossils, or anything else, just email email@example.com and we'll forward your email. If you don’t hear back right away, please be patient. Remember, he may be off collecting more fossils right now!