Prof Ewan Fordyce, of the University of Otago geology department (right), reflects on 20 million-year-old dolphin fossils with fellow research group members (from left) Carolina Loch, of Brazil, Yoshi Tanaka, of Japan, Gabriel Aguiree, of Mexico (holding fossil), Felix Marx, of Austria, and Bobby Boessenecker, of the United States. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Dunedin is home to the world's largest single group of
researchers studying ancient marine mammal evolution, and
high-profile publications about Otago marine fossils are
boosting the region's international image, scientists say.
Prof Ewan Fordyce, of the University of Otago's geology
department, was working largely by himself when he joined the
staff at Otago and started researching ancient marine
creatures 30 years ago.
These days he is supervising seven PhD students, all in the
These fellow researchers comprise a kind of mini-United
Nations, hailing from the United States, Mexico, Austria,
Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan and Brazil.
The researchers said they were studying at Otago because of
Prof Fordyce's international reputation. Several added that
the North Otago-South Canterbury area was regarded as one of
the top five areas in the world for continuing discovery of
ancient marine fossils.
High-profile research by Prof Fordyce about ancient ''giant''
penguin fossils, published last year, and more recent
discoveries involving the pygmy right whale by Prof Fordyce
and doctoral student Felix Marx have sparked extensive
international media coverage. The research was clearly
boosting the international profile of Dunedin and Otago and
highlighting North Otago's standing as a hot spot for ancient
biodiversity, he said.
''I think it's great.''
All the doctoral students were high-quality scholars and
working with them was a ''real privilege'' and ''hugely
The development of a group added to scientific advances in
the field and reflected the University of Otago's strong
focus on postgraduate research and its support of
scholarship. The Royal Society of New Zealand recently
awarded Prof Fordyce the Hutton Medal for research
excellence, saying his research had placed New Zealand ''at
the forefront of international research in the field''.
He has also contributed to the development of the Vanished
World Trail in North Otago.
The research produced ''multiple benefits'', including for
the university, which benefited from ''publicity about
interesting ancient life'', and there had also been
tourism-related publicity in North Otago, he said.