About this project
GUESS WHAT?! Thanks to meeting our first goal we were able to carbon date the elk and we have the results:
With 97.5% certainty the data suggests that... Sunny's Elk is the rare and now extinct EASTERN ELK! (Fund the campaign, get the exclusive updates and read all about it in the exclusive "Backers Only" update.)
Help Sunny meet her STRETCH GOAL! We have just hours to make it to $5,689.25! Invest and tell all your friends you helped 10 year old Sunny research the rare, extinct Eastern Elk she discovered!
Now, read the story... then fund the project and read the updates! Sunny THANKS you!
Imagine being 10 years old and making the discovery of a lifetime... well, Sonja Moehle (aka Sunny) did. Paddling around as the ice broke this spring, she looked down in the water and noticed something that looked like rib bones. Her Dad thought it looked like sticks, but being the supportive Dad that he is, used his fishing pole to pull up what at second glance looked like a boat part, but when they pulled it out of the water turned out to be a giant vertebrae.
Quickly they rigged up a rope and hook to pull up the "sticks" and...
...the sticks turned out to be GIANT ANTLERS... elk antlers, from what may be an ancient elk, perhaps the even an Eastern elk, an elk that has long been extinct in Michigan.
Once we realized that there were more bones beneath the water, we knew we needed to ask for scientific advice. Thankfully we were able to travel to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and lessen our costs by staying with dear friends Dan and Rachel. Then on June 2, 2014 we lugged our bagged, box of elk bones around Ann Arbor, via bus, to the U of M Museum of Natural History and met with Paleontologist Dan Fisher and Biologist Phil Myers. We hoped that Phil and Dan might be able to easily identify "the Elk". But guess what? Our questions simply lead to more questions. We asked the professors what Sunny should do with "The Elk" what would be best for science, and they expressed that first, before she decided, it would be good to know more about what she'd be donating. Dan and Phil have accepted our invitation to informally advise us through the research process. And boy, have they delivered. Phil with encouragement, his thoughts on DNA testing, and an invitation to visit him this summer at the U of M Biological Station; Dan offered his insight into how to dig up the bones from the mucky inland waters. In addition to their help we've asked Susan Fawcett a researcher (we need to learn about what kind of science is her focus) from Berkeley and Louis Bender, a scientist with a strong background in Michigan's elk history, to join Sunny's advisory team --and they said yes too!
THE DETAILS: more to our research process, if you have any questions, please send them to us!
- We learned so much from Phil Myers and Dan Fisher, we felt confident moving forward with research, to try to learn about who Sunny's Elk was. We brainstormed the best way to do the research and maintain our focus and we decided publishing our research process and findings, and creating a resource to help inspire others by sharing our story, we had a goal! So we created www.sunnyandtheelk.org.
To get really serious about the research, we sought permission from the property owner. Gratefully Tom and Kathy are supportive of the research and have joined in the fun! "We
are also known by our grandchildren as the directors of Camp PapaDamma!
Last spring Sonja and her parents notified us about an unusual find on
the bottom of the lake, approximately 200 feet from our shore... a
giant elk skeleton! Since then we have been following the adventure as
Sonja consulted with expert Paleontologists from the University of
Michigan, and those she has reached out to on the web. It has been
amazing to see how professional people have taken the time and offered
their counsel to Sonja. We are fans and following the learning process
with her. It is truly an adventure."
- To line up our Carbon Dating test, we found a lab and succeeded in building a great relationship with Ron Hatfield of Beta Analytics. Ron is not only a master in his field, but a hunter who knows elk and, to top it off, is a great guy. We sent photos of the bones and from those photos Ron approved the next step, which is to send a bone to the lab. And we're ready to send a bone as soon as we meet our first Kickstarter goal, we cannot wait for the results of the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry test.
But we still wanted more information and thankfully Susan Fawcett pointed us in the direction of Google Scholar, a search engine for scholarly literature, we began researching and we hit the jackpot. In fact, when we searched "Elk+Michigan", so many journal articles popped up, we found one name over and over: Louis C. Bender. So we searched his articles only and wow! We had so many questions and we couldn't afford to buy all the articles and not sure that we'd be able to understand the research without help, so...
- We looked Louis C. Bender up, found that he is Research Faculty at New Mexico State University, and we called him. And guess what? He called us back and is now advising us on the research project, crazy right?! This guy knows his Elk. We sent him a few photos of our Elk and in turn he requested additional views of his teeth and with that Lou was able to identify that our Elk died in around his fifth year.
BIG FIND: thanks to Lou we now know our Elk was only 5 years old when he died. Which lead us to another question: what is an elk's life span. You see, each of these questions lead us to more questions.
- We found the answer to the Elk Lifespan Question on Phil Myers' Animal Diversity Web: "Longevity in elk is difficult to assess because most populations are affected by hunting pressures. Elk can live beyond 20 years."
- Speaking of Phil, he had a concern about DNA testing. As he explained in an email: "I'm worried about the feasibility of the DNA study. You can certainly pay to have the lab work done, and it probably won't be horribly expensive. The problem is, what lab work? What genes will you sequence, and how will you analyze the results (which will come in the form of a table of probably tens of thousands of letters, all of them A, G, C, or T)? Where will you get the DNA data from other kinds of elk to compare to yours? This would be a great Masters Thesis! I'm not enough of a geneticist to know the right answers, and worse, although I've been wracking my brain for ideas of someone who might help, I'm not coming up with anyone." So we asked our Elk expert and guess what? Lou Bender has a colleague that is familiar with identifying Elk DNA. We hope that if we reach our stretch goal we'll be able afford DNA testing and hopefully learn about what species our Elk belonged to!
- On his last phone message (the week of July 6) Lou had questions for us --he was curious about our Elk's Boone and Crockett Measurement. SoSunny and David downloaded the score charts, got out the measuring tape and began learning how to measure our elk against other elk... we still think our guy is the best. Not sure about the measurement, we'll let you know when we're sure.
IN THE NEWS:
Listen to Sunny's Story on Interlochen Public Radio! "Carbon Dating Reveals 10 Year Old's Discovery Is A Rare, Extinct Elk"Listen Here
- Sunny and The Elk were featured in the Traverse City Record Eagle on Sunday, July 13. The article does a great job with Sunny's Story and is full of great information about elk, too. Click here to read the article.
- The Betsie Current a great little newspaper that was relaunched thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign this spring. Read the full article here!
- Detroit Free Press: "Michigan girl finds elk skeleton relic"
- Houston Chronicle: "Michigan girl finds elk skeleton relic"
- The Detroit News: "Michigan Girl Finds Elk Relic"
- Outdoor Hub: "Michigan Girl Uncovers 160-year-old Skeleton of Extinct Elk"
- mLive: "U-M researchers help to find answers after girl discovers 300-year-old elk skeleton in Northern Michigan"
- Petoskey News: Michigan girl finds elk skeleton relic in Northern Michigan
- Lansing State Journal: "Girl finds centuries old skeleton of extinct elk species in Benzie County"
SUNNY'S RESEARCH TEAM:
- Sonja Daniels Moehle, aka Sunny: the magical 10 year old who found the bones. She JOYFULLY has chosen to do the research and learn about the Elk. She brings amazing enthusiasm and curiosity to the project, she is the kind of person that sticks with a job until it is done.
- Nadia Daniels Moehle: Sunny's sister, plans to support her sister with all aspects of the project, and has donated hours of work toward her Original Elk Art she is donating as rewards for the Kickstarter. Watch for the "Original Elk Art Update".
- David Moehle: Sunny's Dad, brings his amazing ability to make things happen (while having fun) to the project. He's been described as an artistic MacGyver, he is also a hunter and shares his vast knowledge of the outdoors. His company ETM Electric, Inc will provide matching funds for the first $500 donation to the Kickstarter Campaign.
- Amy Daniels Moehle: Sunny's Mom, her heart is in building connections within communities to support arts, culture, and happiness --and her full time job is Life Assistant to Sunny and Nadia. She brings her research skills and mom-can-do-anything abilities to the project.
Alex Brydges: our underwater zoo archeologist for the day. Alex is a certified rescue diver, the elk was definitely beyond saving, but thanks to Alex we retrieved three crates of bones.
Carrie Aldrich: our transcriptionist --but more that that she is fuel for our inspiration --her family came to the 2nd dig and her daughters were in the water, helping! Of the process she shares, "Sunny made an exciting find in her favorite lake, and is living every child's dream of exploration and discovery! As a child, I wanted to be an archeologist. As I transcribed the Moehle's interview with the scientists at the University of Michigan, I felt that wonder reawaken. 'What interesting animal was uncovered under the water?' I love that there are communities such as Kickstarter that can give our kids a chance to explore opportunities like this!" Need a transcriptionist? We highly recommend Carrie, find her here.
SUNNY'S INFORMAL ADVISORS:
- Phil Myers: recently retired Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Curator, Museum of Zoology at University of Michigan; Founder and Director of the Animal Diversity Web. We spent an amazing afternoon with Phil discussing our elk, among other animals, and can't wait to see him at his summer location, the U of M Biological Station.
- Dan Fisher: Curator and Director, Museum of Paleontology; Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology; Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences; Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Our lives were changed by a couple of hours with Dan, discussing bomb curves, touching 65 million year old fossils, and learning that it is better than okay not to know the answer, as long as you are willing to keep looking and researching. We were also giddy to learn that Dan was a member of the research team that studied 'Lyuba', the Baby Mammoth --read all about it in National Geographic.
- Susan Fawcett: we first met Susan years ago on a "bug walk" on Earthwork Farm where she was as comfortable talking bugs as she was plucking an instrument (in addition to being a scientist she is an amazing musician and a member of the Earthwork Music Collective). We happily recall an occasion when she helped us identify a crazy wasp, turned out to be an ovipositing ichneumon wasp, a wild thing to experience. We're grateful for Susan's help connecting the research dots!
- Lou Bender: College Associate Professor, Extension Animal Sciences and Natural Resources, New Mexico State University. After speaking with Lou, we knew we found the man with answers about elk. He has done so much research on elk that, we don't know which question to ask first. We're beginning by getting a hold of and reading as much of his research as we can. (One very cool thing about working with active field researchers is that sometimes they are not available, because they are out working in remote places without cellphone signals, can you imagine?! Now we can!)
The Updated Budget:
Our Original Fundraising Goals and Budget (**See our updated budget above!):
Questions often lead to more questions, so please feel free to ask us questions! We'd love to try to answer them!
Please consider sharing the project via email, facebook, twitter, smoke signal, or even by talking about it with your friends! It is a great story isn't it? We've noticed that people really smile when we share it, some even cry inspired tears, so share smiles... share Sunny's Story!
(Side note: together the Daniels Moehle family founded The Books for Walls Project to promote literacy, libraries, and book love, they've successfully facilitated literacy projects, supported libraries, and even launched a campaign that helped save Troy Public Library.)
Risks and challenges
Challenges include being okay with questions leading to more questions. Our question "who is this elk?" may never definitively be answered, that is the way of science.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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