Extinct mammoths, saber-toothed cats discussed at annual faculty lecture

Travis Pastori

Dr. Robert Gray’s lecture on extinct animals from the Ice Age tomorrow may just chill you to the bone.

Country-dancing, bone-digging Dr. Bob Gray will deliver the 31st annual faculty lecture, “The Last Great Extinction: Exiled Mammoths of the Channel Islands and Saber Tooth Cats of Rancho La Brea,” at 2:30 p.m. March 11 in the Sports Pavilion.

“It’s a real celebration,” said Janet Shapiro, colleague and member of the annual lecture committee. “What a gift for his colleagues to be able to hear some of the work he has done over his many years.”

Delivering the lecture is considered the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member, and Gray has been nominated many times before, so it’s exciting that he will be the lecturer this year, she said.

Gray has worked at City College for 43 years – longer than any other employee – and does field work in Santa Barbara and on the Channel Islands. He discovers bones and fossils of Ice Age mega fauna, which are the animals that lived during that time.

He said that before modern time, saber tooth cats, giant sloths, camels and other unique animals lived in California. There was also a miniature mammoth that could only be found on the Channel Islands. All of a sudden, these animals vanished.

“Twelve-thousand and nine hundred years ago, they all disappeared in a geologic blink of an eye,” Gray said. “Gone.”

There are a few different theories about what may have happened. A meteor may have exploded over North America, or people from Asia may have hunted them to extinction. Gray said his lecture focus on what he believes caused “The Last Extinction.”

He said for entertainment during his lecture, he will have “gimmicks”: giant saber tooth cat skulls and mammoth bones will be on display, and there will be a slideshow of his field work.

“So people will say, golly, he’s actually done some of the work,” he said.

Dr. Gray has mapped the coast from Lompoc to Santa Barbara in search of Ice Age mega fauna, and has found many bones from a variety of animals that are now extinct.

Jeff Meyer, colleague and physical geology professor, said that Dr. Gray is a “camping out” and “diggin’ in the dirt” kind of guy, who is the core of the department because of his significant work in the field.

Another notable accomplishment of Gray’s is that he and his wife are world champion country dancers, said Shapiro.

“I hope we get to see him dance,” she said.