News Column

Dinosaurs invade Hampton Roads!

June 12, 2014

By Teresa Annas, The Virginian-Pilot

June 13--NEWPORT NEWS -- The news this summer in Newport News is old news. Really old news. As in, prehistoric.

Since 1990, the Virginia Living Museum has hosted occasional shows of moving, roaring animatronic dinosaurs, which are always a big draw, especially for youngsters.

Less than two miles away, at The Mariners' Museum, a different kind of show about prehistoric creatures recently went up, too.

For dino lovers, it's double your pleasure.

Except, oops, the Mariners' is not showing dinosaurs. Prehistoric maritime creatures are not called dinosaurs, but they can be just as big and scary and fascinating.

If that's not enough, in nearby Hampton this weekend there's a touring dinos show at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, though it stresses entertainment more than education.

It's the Mariners' first time for a show like this. "Our new initiative is to have more kid-friendly and family-friendly shows," said Priscilla Hauger, director of exhibitions. "We're making a more concerted effort."

The exhibit was created by Triebold Paleontology, a Colorado company that collects fossilized remains, then prepares and restores them for exhibition. Often, and it's the case for this exhibition, the fragile bones of way-back-when creatures are cast and then assembled as a replica skeleton, with missing parts filled in by sculpted facsimiles.

It would be foolhardy to dangle a massive Tylosaurus proriger -- picture a 40-foot-long eel with an alligator head -- from the gallery's high ceilings, the show's audience-friendly text tells us. The skull would be heavier than the cast material, which is liquid plastic resin, used to reproduce it.

The show features about two dozen full skeletons plus several "life restorations" of creatures cast from fossil parts, and more.

On view are several collections of real bones set in plaster, showing how the paleontologist found them at a dig. An example is a Pteranodon, a huge flying lizard that is theorized to have hunted fish from the prehistoric waters covering the central United States. In this exhibit the creature is shown in pieces the way it was discovered by Mike Triebold, president of Triebold Paleontology, in 1991 in Kansas.

Those disconnected bones were used to make the Pteranodon cast-skeletons on view.

Many of the skeletons float overhead and create the sensation that you're walking into deep ocean and on a collision course with some fierce-looking whatsits.

A Pteranodon is the first thing you encounter. From there, you can see the ferocious Tylosaurus, its massive jaws open and its body wriggling to move quickly through the water toward its prey, the surely alarmed Elasmosaurus platyurus. You can remember that reptile's name if you think of its giraffe-like neck as elastic.

Four-year-old Colin Moore, with his grandparents, Deborah and Barry Buchanan of Hampton, looked ecstatic as he stormed in. "What's that? And what's that?" he demanded, moving quickly through the specimens. His grandmother patiently read the labels for him.

Finally, he dashed to the dig box, filled with a dirtlike material that doesn't get you dirty. It also contained brushes, so visitors can clear debris from cast fossils found just beneath the surface. Colin jumped in and got brushing.

"This isn't one you pick up," the grandmother cautioned Colin about the bones. "This is one you uncover and discover."

The museum's new 3-D movie theater is featuring the 40-minute "Sea Rex 3D" through the run of the show. The film puts skin on these creatures and brings them back to life -- better than Walt Disney's "Fantasia" did. It's so realistic you can suspend disbelief and imagine that the 70-foot-wide prehistoric turtles and the 50-foot-long Megalodon sharks are still among us, and absolutely awe-inspiring, unless they have our flesh in their sights.

At the Virginia Living Museum, first it's the scale you notice. Re-creations of six different giant creatures from prehistoric times are on display in nature settings with fake leaves, forest backdrops and occasionally a water feature.

There's the duck-billed Edmontosaurus with its newly hatched offspring. The armored-looking Euplocephalus with a clublike tail. The corporate-sounding Citipati. They make grumbling, snorting and, yes, roaring sounds when they open their mouths.

And they move. Tails go up and down. Forelegs gesture. Heads twist and turn.

That's scary enough, but it's the realistic-looking and -moving eyeballs that get you.

You know how people and animals sometimes look in one direction before they turn their heads that way? These dinos do that. And it's unnerving.

The "skin" looks fairly convincing, too, even from just a few feet away. It stretches much like real skin does as the dinos gently gyrate.

This show has a small dig pit in the galleries, but there's a much larger one outside. Visitors there can dig up real regional fossils, identify them and take them home.

The dino shows change each time the Living Museum hosts them, which lately has been every other year.

The recent finding highlighted here is feathered dinosaurs, represented by the ostrich-resembling Citipati, which grew to 9 feet in length. Its face looks designed by Picasso; the nostrils are higher than its saucer eyes, which are on the sides of its head.

Throughout the show, some youngsters might burst into tears or spiral into mild terror. In that case, volunteers near the entrance have a ready salve that seems to work.

Volunteer Lucy Thornburgh pulled a tiny dinosaur from her pocket. "This is a lucky charm for little children who are afraid. We give it to them to carry around while they're here," she said.

While kids might be hesitant at first, Chris Lewis, director of education, said, "They'll all come in and enjoy it. There's something about being scared that's fun."


"Dinos Live!"

Where Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News

When Through Sept. 1; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Cost $17 adults, $13 ages 3-12, free for ages 2 and younger

Dinos night hours 6-8 p.m. Saturday, July 12 and Aug. 9; $6

More info 595-1900,

Special programs

-"Dinosaur Prophecy" planetarium show 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily, $4 plus museum admission.

-Dinosaur puppet show Rainbow Puppet Productions, shows at noon, 1 and 2 p.m. weekends through June 22.

-A real dig Help excavate a prehistoric whale fossil, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, $12 plus museum admission


"Savage Ancient Seas: Dinosaurs of the Deep"

Where The Mariners' Museum, 100 Museum Drive, Newport News

When Through Jan. 4; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to

5 p.m. Sundays

Cost $12 adults, $11 seniors and military, $10 students 13 and up; $7 ages 6-12; free for ages 5 and younger

More info 596-2222,

Special programs

-"Sea Rex 3D" The Mariners' just opened its new 3-D Explorers Theater, which will alternate showings of 3-D films, currently one about prehistoric maritime creatures (ends Jan. 3) and another about the 1944 landing at Normandy on D-Day (ends Aug. 14). $6 plus museum admission

-Savage Saturdays Search for prehistoric fossils dug up in Mariners' Park and brought into the museum, every Saturday through Aug. 30; pop in any time from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dress for digging. Free with museum admission.

-Dozin' with the Dinos Aug. 8-9 sleepover in the museum; children must be accompanied by an adult, $40 children, $20 adults; call 591-7745 to register

-Mike Triebold lecture He's the paleontologist whose company produced the exhibition; 7 p.m.Oct. 9; free


Hampton invasion

The touring show "Dinosaurs Come Alive!" will be at Hampton Roads Convention Center, 1610 Coliseum Drive, Hampton, today from 3 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are also bounce amusements, an enchanted fairy garden and a tooth fairy garden. $15, active-duty military and first responders receive one free admission. 315-1610.


Teresa Annas, 757-446-2485,


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