Snappy discovery leads to award for fossil-hunter

Leading Hawke’s Bay conservationist Pete Shaw has been recognised by the Geoscience Society of New Zealand for his work on fossils in the Maungataniwha Native Forest. He has been awarded the Harold Wellman Prize for the discovery of important fossil material in New Zealand, including the largest mosasaur tooth on record here.

Pete Shaw is a trustee of the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, which owns a property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest. The citation for his award says he has discovered fossils from numerous species of reptiles and outcrops rich in molluscan remains, while also expanding significantly “in a geographic sense” on the work of renowned New Zealand palaeontologist Joan Wiffen, forging routes into remote places that she was never able to visit.

The Trust’s property at Maungataniwha is of national importance geologically as the site where Ms Wiffen first discovered evidence of land-dinosaur fossils in New Zealand. These fossil remains were extracted from cretaceous rock taken from the Mangahouanga Stream, which has the bulk of its catchment within this forest.

“If any one place is the epicentre of New Zealand palaeontology, Maungataniwha is probably it,” Mr Shaw said.

“My interest in the fossil treasure-trove here was sparked by meeting the late Joan Wiffen, whose work truly was inspirational. We’re privileged to be able to curate this astonishing area for the people of New Zealand.”

Maungataniwha continues to reveal a trove of fossilised riches; in June 2014 walkers stumbled across the fossil of an unusually large ammonite, a squid-like animal that lived in the sea during the time of the dinosaurs. It was here that Mr Shaw discovered the fossilised mosasaur jaw in March 2015.

He and DOC biodiversity ranger Helen Jonas were conducting a search for whio (Blue duck) up a small stream when Mr Shaw spotted a rock with a lump of bone in it. Ms Jonas was keen to see if the bone extended through the rock and Mr Shaw jumped into a nearby pool to fetch a branch with which to lever the rock loose.

While in the pool he felt something rough and lifted out another rock containing the fossilised jaw fragment.