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Voting for a Fossil

30 November 2000 7:00 pm
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Future state fossil? This famous fish-within-a-fish, a 14-foot Xiphactinus with its last meal, is on display at Kansas's Sternberg Museum.

Talk about election irregularities: In Barton County, Kansas, an extinct fish got 235 votes on 7 November, only 15 fewer than Ralph Nader. The vote was part of a campaign staged by Kansas fossil dealer Alan Detrich, who wants to make Xiphactinus, a large fish that roamed the seas of Kansas 85 million years ago, the state fossil.

Quite a few states have official dinosaurs or other official fossils--the earliest ones were petrified wood in North Dakota and the Nebraska mammoth, designated in 1967. But Kansas doesn't, and Detrich--best known for his ongoing attempts to peddle a Tyrannosaurus rex for $20 million--thinks getting one designated is going to be an uphill fight, given the strong opposition to evolutionary theory in the state.

That's why he has been agitating for the X-fish, as it's known, since last spring, and has enlisted local grade schoolers in the effort. To get the fossil bandwagon rolling, the campaign urged voters to write in the name of the fish on ballots where local politicians were running uncontested races. But when election officials complained that would drive up the cost of tabulations, Detrich called off his troops, in exchange for pledges of support from several candidates.

Detrich plans to keep up his campaign to get the state legislature to adopt the fossil. He's optimistic about getting more support for his cause, too. In the November election, for example, the creationist board of education was replaced by a more moderate one. Detrich hopes enthusiasm for fossils will reach a fever pitch when a cast of the famous T. rex named Sue, whose remains are now settled at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, will visit the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas, from February to April.

Related sites
The Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Oceans of Kansas Paleontology

The Sort of Official State Dinosaur Page

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