top of page
  • Writer's pictureForest Lifeforce

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.

Mr 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


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.

About the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration

of threatened species of fauna and flora, and to restore the ngahere mauri (forest lifeforce) in native forests

within the Central North Island. It runs eight main regeneration and restoration projects, involving native New

Zealand flora and fauna, on three properties in the central North Island. It also owns a property in the South

Island’s Fiordland National Park.

CAPTION: Mr Shaw with his prize - and the tooth in question.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page