2019 McKay Hammer Award winner:
The return of once terrestrial creature to life in water (eg whales and penguins) marks one of the most profound transitions in vertebrate evolution. Ewan’s work has illuminated many aspects of this process from its earliest beginnings to the biotic and physical factors that drove it.
His recent publication ‘Gigantism precedes filter feeding in baleen whale evolution’ describes the second-oldest baleen whale ever found, and sheds light on how these animals first adapted to feeding in water. This study, resulting from fieldwork under harsh Antarctic conditions and years of painstaking fossil preparation, would have been impossible without Ewan’s drive and determination.
Ewan’s co-authored paper ‘A new eomysticetid from Oligocene Kokoamu Greensand of New Zealand and a review of Eomysticetidae’ is the culmination of many years of work on the oldest ‘modern’ (ie toothless) whales. Prior to this his efforts, almost nothing was known about these animals, despite their pivotal position at the base of all living whales. Ewan’s work led to the collection and description of several new species, and now helps to reveal diversity, development, ecology, and biogeography at the dawn of modern whale evolution.
Past McKay Hammer Award winners
|Year||Person||From||For publication(s) on|
|2018||Laura Wallace||GNS||For a body of work that has been transformative in our understanding of the seismic behaviour of the Hikurangi subduction margin.|
|2017||Daphne Lee||Otago||For a body of work on palaeontology and palaeobotany of southern Zealandia using fossils in Oligocene-Miocene sedimentary deposits.|
|Nicholas Golledge||Victoria||For a body of work on modelling the Antarctica Ice Sheet.|
|2016||Helen Bostock||NIWA||For a body of work devoted largely to palaeoceanogrphy and palaeoclimatology in the New Zealand and wider Southern Hemisphere regions.|
|2015||Julie Rowland||Auckland||Hydrologic, magmatic, and tectonic controls on hydrothermal flow, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand: Implications for the formation of epithermal vein deposits.|
|2014||Kelvin Berryman||GNS||Major earthquakes occurring regularly on an isolated plate boundary fault.|
|2013||Bruce Hayward||Geomarine Research||The last global extinction (Mid-Pleistocene) of deep-sea benthic foraminifera.|
|2012||David Barrell||GNS||South Island glacial geomorphology and the record of climate change.|
|2010||Simon Cox||GNS||Mapping and scientific contributions to understanding the geology of the Southern Alps, focussing on his work on the Aoraki QMAP project.|
|2009||Brent Alloway||Wellington||Tephrochronology and its application to palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstructions.|
|2008||Andy Nicol||GNS||Research on faults spanning the divide between seismology and structural geology.|
|2007||Alan Beu||GNS||Marine Mollusca of oxygen isotope stages of the last 2 million years in New Zealand|
|2006||Tim Naish||GNS||Plio-Pleistocene marine record of Wanganui Basin|
|2005||Chris Hollis||GNS||KT boundary environmental changes|
|2004||Phil Shane||Auckland||Tephrostratigraphy & paleoenvironments|
|2003||Tim Little||Victoria||Southern Alps & Neotectonics|
|2002||Peter Kamp||Waikato||Fission track thermochronology|
|2001||Pat Suggate||GNS||Quaternary stratigraphy & coal rank|
|2000||Chris Adams||GNS||Provenance of NZ terranes|
|1999||Phil Barnes||NIWA||Southern Hikurangi margin|
|1998||Lionel Carter||NIWA||Shelf to deep ocean processes|
|1997||James Crampton||GNS||Inoceramid taxonomy|
|1996||Peter Koons||Otago||Collision zones and processes|
|1995||Ian Wright||NIWA||Offshore TVZ volcanism|
|1994||Nick Mortimer||GNS||Otago Schist|
|1993||Brad Pillans||Victoria||NZ Quaternary geology|
|1992||Phil Maxwell||Waimate||Eocene macropaleontology|
|DSIR Otago||Hydrothermal work; Fiordland petrology|
|1990||Cam Nelson||Waikato||Carbonate deposits|
|Otago & USGS||Tectonostratigraphic terranes|
|1988||Ian Turnbull||NZGS||Southland geology|
|1987||No award made||-||-|
|1986||Colin Wilson||Auckland||Taupo eruption|
|1985||Matt McGlone||DSIR Botany||Quaternary flora, climate|
|1984||Jarg Pettinga||Canterbury||Southern Hawkes Bay geology|
|1983||Mike Johnston||NZGS||East Nelson geology|
|1982||George Walker||Hawaii||Taupo ignimbrites|
|1981||Vince Neall||Massey||Taranaki volcanicity|
|1980||Roger Cooper||NZGS||Paleozoic geology and fauna|
|1979||Simon Nathan||NZGS||West Coast geology|
|1978||Bruce Hayward||NZGS||Waitakere Ranges geology|
|1977||Ian Speden||NZGS||Cretaceous geology|
|1976||Gordon Williams||Otago||Economic geology of NZ|
Alexander McKay was born in Scotland on 11 April 1841 and migrated to New Zealand aged 22.
After working in the New Zealand and Australian goldfields he spent four years exploring and prospecting the south-west part of the Mackenzie Country. It was during this time that he met Julius Haast who, in 1870, engaged him as an assistant on some geological surveys of the north Canterbury region.
Late in 1872 James Hector, director of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey of New Zealand, noted McKay's fine saurian fossil collections from Waipara in the Canterbury Museum, and engaged the young geologist to make similar collections from Haumuri Bluff near Kaikoura. At the completion of this work in April 1873 McKay moved to Wellington. Shortly afterwards he was appointed a permanent officer in the Geological Survey, where he remained until retrenchment of the survey in 1892. He was then transferred to the Mines Department as mining geologist, eventually becoming government geologist.
Initially a fossil collector for the Geological Survey, McKay was soon sent by Hector on geological reconnaissance explorations. Enthusiasm, physical and mental robustness, and a sheer joy in discovery and exploration carried McKay to the remotest parts of the country. He delighted in the discovery of a new fossil locality, the rocking motion of an earthquake, and particularly, a finding in the field that cast doubt on the favoured theory of a local specialist.
In the late 1880s McKay took up a new enthusiasm – photography. He experimented with designs of cameras and telescopes and with telephotography and microphotography, even grinding his own lenses from bottle ends, and achieved good quality photo-micrographs of thin sections of rocks. He retired from the public service in 1904.
Philosophically, McKay's greatest achievement can be seen as freeing New Zealand earth scientists from the strictures of a European-based 'received wisdom', enabling them to see, interpret and report the uniqueness of New Zealand geology.
Alexander McKay died in Wellington in 1917.
A longer more detailed biography of Alexander McKay can be found in Te Ara.