Borrowing exhibitions from other museums is a great way for us to feature stories and collections from all over the world. (Keep your eye out for Whales Tohora, a fantastic show from the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand—coming in March 2012!) In the case of Extreme Mammals, not only was it a chance to showcase cool specimens from the American Museum of Natural History’s remarkable collections, but it was also an opportunity to highlight one of our own surprisingly “extreme” mammals.
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put Puijila darwini into the spotlight. This prehistoric mammal is single-handedly rewriting the evolutionary story of seals, sea lions and the walrus. Discovered in the Arctic by our own palaeobiologist Natalia Rybczynski, and her team, the “walking seal” bridges the evolutionary gap between a prehistoric land mammal and modern marine mammals. It had the solid legs, powerful jaws and ferocious teeth of a terrestrial predator, but the webbed feet, elongated body, and big eyes are characteristic of an aquatic hunter.
For the Extreme Mammals exhibition, we decided to not only put Puijila’s reconstructed skeleton on display, but also to create a fleshed-out bronze model of the animal. First, our in-house 3D imaging specialist, Paul Bloskie, scanned the bones discovered by Natalia and her team.
Next, our 3D animator-illustrator, Alex Tirabasso, used special software to virtually add flesh onto the bones. It was a real treat for us at the museum to finally see what Puijila would have looked like as more than a skeleton.
Museum-model specialist Kevin Hockley, from Hockley Studios, used the 3D fleshed-out model information as a guide to create a life-sized clay sculpture of Puijila.
The clay sculpture was then sent to a foundry to be cast in bronze.
Finally, visitors can see—and touch—Puijila darwini, and really get a sense of what this 21-million-year-old dude looked like in real life!