'Dakota' the Duckbilled Dinosaur Travels From North Dakota to Japan

Dakota the duckbilled dinosaur is a hit in Japan after making its biggest trip ever.

The 67-million-year-old Edmontosaurus with fossilized skin, found in North Dakota's Badlands a decade ago, has been on display in Chiba, Japan, since July. But getting the 5-ton mummified specimen there has been a mammoth task.

Dakota has done little traveling since Tyler Lyson, a doctoral paleontology student at Yale University, discovered the dinosaur on his uncle's ranch near Marmarth, in southwestern North Dakota, in 1999.

Lyson said Dakota has been the highlight of the "Dinosaur 2009 — Miracle of the Desert" show, which features 260 specimens of featured fossilized creatures from around the world.

"Obviously, I was very apprehensive about sending a one-of-a-kind specimen that far," Lyson said.

Paleontologist John Hoganson, of the North Dakota Geological Survey, said officials made several trips to Bismarck to assess the fossil before shipping. He said Dakota's body, fossilized into stone, weighs about 8,500 pounds, and two other portions including a tail and an arm bring the total to about 10,000 pounds.

"We had to find the biggest forklift in Bismarck to load it," Hoganson said.

Only a few mummified dinosaurs exist, and researchers Dakota may have most and best-preserved skin. It has been the subject of a children's book and an adult book, and National Geographic television programs.

Masterpiece International Shipping, which specializes in packing up and shipping items like paintings and relics, handled the big cargo. It was taken by truck to Chicago and then flown to Japan.

"They treated (Dakota) with the utmost respect," Lyson said.

A spokeswoman for New York-based Masterpiece International said the company does not comment on its operations.

The exhibit's sponsors, which include Japanese electronics and automobile companies, paid for the move, which Lyson estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Lyson, who traveled to Japan with his parents, said that visitors to the exhibit are funneled through various displays, with Dakota saved for last.

"Of all the featured things, this was the grand finale," Lyson said.

Hoganson said he and Lyson gave a presentation on the fossil.

"It was a packed house," Hoganson said. "About 500 people paid money to come listen to us talk in English about dinosaurs."

The exhibition runs through Sept. 27, and Dakota is slated to return to Bismarck next month.

Its tail and arm will go on display in late October at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck, Hoganson said. In a back room, paleontologists will continue the detailed work of removing rock that encases Dakota, he said.

Lyson hopes to eventually send Dakota on a worldwide tour and then bring it back to his hometown of Marmarth, in North Dakota's southwestern corner, where he is creating a museum.

"The money we're getting from the Japanese will help finish preparation on it," Lyson said, though he declined to specify that figure.

Hoganson said he thought the Japanese have more fascination with dinosaurs than other countries.

"It's interesting because they don't have hardly any dinosaur fossils found in Japan," he said. "I think it may be because the movies, like Godzilla."