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An extinction-themed Cal Day
by Dave Smith

Welcome to Cal Day
 
Cal Day, the annual UC Berkeley campus-wide open house, was held on Saturday, April 20, and as usual, families, school groups, students, and other Bay Area residents turned out in droves to see what the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) had to offer in and around the Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB). Despite the BNHM's "gloom and doom" theme of extinction, all the evidence suggested that everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves! They could not have asked for better weather — it was a beautiful sunny day and about 70°.

Out in the VLSB courtyard, UCMP participated in a collaborative event — involving the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, the UC Botanical Garden, the Essig Museum of Entomology, and the University and Jepson Herbaria — simply called "Extinction!" Though focusing primarily on extinctions that have taken place within human history, visitors could see the bones, mounted specimens, and/or pictures of animals and plants that (1) are extinct, e.g., cockroach-like "roachoids," trilobites, ichthyosaurs, mastodons, moa, and Steller's Sea Cow; (2) are thought to be extinct, e.g., Ivory-billed Woodpecker; (3) are on the brink of extinction, e.g., Siberian Tiger and certain Hawaiian honeycreepers; and (4) were thought to be extinct but are not, e.g., Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia) and Franciscan Manzanita.

Downstairs in UCMP's "Fishbowl," a display focused on five mass extinctions in Earth's history. The featured extinctions were the end-Ordovician, end-Permian, end-Cretaceous (dinosaurs!), end-Eocene, and Pleistocene-Holocene. Museum Scientists and grad students showed Cal Day visitors fossils of creatures lost in these extinctions, such as ammonites, marine reptiles, dinosaurs, giant ground sloths, and much more.

Keeping with the extinction theme, UCMP and the Department of Integrative Biology cosponsored four well-attended talks dealing with the end-Ordovician (Curator/Assistant Professor Seth Finnegan), end-Permian (grad student Jeff Benca), and end-Cretaceous (Curator/Professor Kevin Padian) extinctions, as well as the local extinction of sea otters in San Francisco Bay (grad student Jenny Hofmeister).

A special UCMP exhibit, put together by Museum Scientist Jason Carr, showcased some of the fossils that were recovered during the construction of the Caldecott Tunnel's fourth bore. Jason and his crew were kept busy fielding questions all day.

Tee shirt table Courtyard display Fun with Fossils

Click on any of these three photos to see an enlargement. Left: Incoming and outgoing Assistant Directors for Education and Public Programs Lisa White (center) and Judy Scotchmoor (with cap), respectively, chat with visitors at the tee shirt table. Center: Crowds bustle about the BNHM extinction display in the VLSB courtyard. Right: Junior paleontologists look for microfossils.

And it wouldn't be Cal Day at UCMP without the traditional — and always popular — "Fun with Fossils" activity, the behind-the-scenes tours of the collections (normally closed to the public), and the sale of tee shirts (Radiolarians and T. rex made a return appearance).

Next year, the BNHM collaborative event will feature unusual and bizarre specimens from the museums' vertebrate, plant, insect, and fossil collections. UCMP's "Fishbowl" exhibit will examine the question "What is a fossil?" using specimens from its collections to demonstrate different kinds of fossilization, and providing examples of rocks and mineral deposits that may look like fossils but are not. The date for Cal Day 2014 has already been set for Saturday, April 12, so mark your calendars now!

Caldecott fossils Pteranodon soars Dori in the Fishbowl
T. rex keeps watch In the Fishbowl Natalia

Click on any of these photos to see an enlargement. Top left: Jason Carr (right) tells visitors about fossils recovered from the Caldecott Tunnel's fourth bore. Top center: Pteranodon soars above the tumult in the Wallace Atrium. Top right: Grad student Dori Contreras talks about the fossils of select victims of mass extinctions. Bottom left: T. rex keeps an eye on the tee shirt sales. Bottom center: Keeping busy in the "Fishbowl" are (behind the tables, from left) Ken Finger, Dori Contreras, Erica Clites, and Pat Holroyd. Bottom right: Natalia Villavicencio fields questions at the courtyard display.
 

"Welcome to Cal Day" photo by Lucy Chang; all other photos by Dave Smith