Russ Ball (left) and another team member work to extract an ancient turtle fossil from along the Puntledge River in January 2021. (Credit: Derek Larson)

Russ Ball (left) and another team member work to extract an ancient turtle fossil from along the Puntledge River in January 2021. (Credit: Derek Larson)

84-million-year-old turtle fossil being studied at Royal B.C. Museum

Discovery made by fossil hunter in Courtenay in January

An approximately 84-million-year-old fossil discovered in Courtenay earlier this year may be an entirely new species of ancient sea turtle.

The Puntledge River, which runs for 49 kilometres at the north end of Courtenay before flowing into the Courtenay River, is a well-known site for fossils, and a favourite spot of fossil hunter Russ Ball. In January, Ball was examining the area when he found what looked like a sea turtle that could be a couple feet in length.

While many fossils have been found along the river, it is rare to find vertebrate ones. Vertebrates are animals that have a backbone, like birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Invertebrates, on the other hand, include insects, spiders, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and coral.

But, backbone or no, after 84 million years the fossil had to be handled extremely carefully.

READ ALSO: Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The ancient turtle fossil is estimated to be 84 million years old.(Credit: Derek Larson)

“Turtle fossils are very fragile,” Ball told Black Press Media in April. “You take the whole block with all the fossils in it.”

Now housed at the Royal B.C. Museum, palaeontology collections manager Derek Larson says it may be one of two known species of ancient sea turtle from the area, or – more excitingly – a newly discovered species.

“Either way, this discovery is a win for palaeontology in B.C.,” Larson said. “If the fossil is a known species, we’ll learn a lot of new information about that species because these specimens are rare and, so far, incomplete. If the fossil turns out to be a species that is new to science, that could exponentially advance our understanding of marine ecosystems millions of years ago.”

Studying the fossil is a priority for the palaeontology team, but Larson cautioned it can take time. Having determined the age of the turtle based on the fossil shells located nearby, it’s now time to chisel away the rock surrounding it. The millimetre by millimetre process is done with the help of a miniature air-powered jackhammer, called a pneumatic air scribe.

Larson said the discovery speaks to the value of citizen science, noting that they may never have found the turtle specimen if it wasn’t for Ball and other volunteers. He encourages everyone in B.C. to keep an eye out for fossils, but says fossil collection laws should be reviewed first.

READ ALSO: Punjabi dining set added to Royal B.C. Museum’s ‘100 Objects of Interest’ collection

With files from Mike Chouinard


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Royal BC MuseumVictoria

Just Posted

Local hiker Kara Ruff captured this double rainbow hiking Ripple Rock near Campbell River on June 15. Photo courtesy Kara Ruff.
Local hiker captures double rainbow

Double rainbow photographed from Ripple Rock trail viewpoint

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. Cermaq’s application to extend leases and transfer smolts was denied. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)
Discovery Island fish farms not allowed to restock

Transfer of 1.5 million juvenile salmon, licence extension denied

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read