Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied

Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Some 80 million or so years ago, a sea turtle died at what now makes up the banks of a Comox Valley river.

Now, the animal has been unearthed by a local fossil hunter.

Courtenay’s Russ Ball has looked for fossils for about 30 years, starting when he and his family lived in Alberta, and he would take his kids to Drumheller. Moving to Vancouver Island 21 years ago, he had to learn about a different climate for fossils, and in that time he’s made a number of discoveries, but the large turtle came as a bit of a surprise, especially as vertebrates can be hard to come by. The Comox Valley though is no stranger to important fossil finds.

“The number of creatures is amazing,” Ball said.

Ball made the discovery in January and contacted Dan Bowen from the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society, who agreed it was likely a turtle. The next step was to contact the Royal BC Museum, which is a repository for fossil finds in the province.

“They got back to me, and they’re kind of excited about it,” Ball said.

From there, the museum’s curator of paleontology, Victoria Arbour, put Ball in touch with Derek Larson, a graduate student working on turtles and who is the paleontology collection manager at the museum.

With all indications pointing to a turtle, perhaps of a different species than a couple of others found in the region, Ball and his team were out at a site at the Puntledge River this past week digging up more evidence.

With time needed to get Larson approved to visit as well as work by BC Hydro, they had to wait until now before starting and spent the week chipping carefully at the specimen, planning to remove the whole piece of rock for later fossil extraction.

“Turtle fossils are very fragile,” Ball said. “You take the whole block with all the fossils in it.

The team had been working with BC Hydro on helping to control water levels during the dig. As well, they relied on the cooperation of landowners for providing access and help with the work. Ball credits many volunteers, in particular, Stewart McIntosh whose bailing efforts helped keep the waters at bay, so they could continue to work on the specimen.

By Thursday, they had applied a plaster cast over the rock to protect exposed areas of the fossil. The plan for Friday was to remove the block, finish casting it and pull it up a steep ridge above the Puntledge River.

The recent hot weather almost put the project on hiatus as snowmelt led to higher river levels. On Thursday they had been able to walk in along the river, through the water, from a nearby farm, but on Friday, the water level was too high, which meant a steep climb down switchbacks to the site on the riverbank.

Through much of the morning, there was some doubt about getting the specimen removed. They were able to bail out enough water to get the specimen finished and lifted out from the riverbed in order for it to be delivered to the Royal BC Museum, where staff will carefully remove rock to extract what remains of the turtle inside.

Ball, who collects fossils and rocks, knows the museum is the right place for a specimen the size of a turtle and is happy he can contribute to the ongoing story of Vancouver Island’s ancient past. By day’s end Friday, Ball sent a text message with an update: “The fossil bone I discovered is on its way to the museum in Victoria. Where it belongs.”

Larson described the turtle as likely being “disarticulated,” meaning its bones are spread apart at the site, or as Ball likes to describe it, “turtle roadkill.”

There is still work to do at the museum, as the researchers aim to find all the remains in the rock and identify the turtle. Larson expects the creature, estimated to be at least 80 million years old, could be up to a couple of feet in length. The hope is that, like the other ancient turtles found in the Comox Valley, this one will again turn out to be something new.

“We don’t yet know if it’s a different species,” Larson said. “It might be completely new to science. We’re very excited.”

***

The Comox Valley is the western-most location on the Canadian Fossil Trail. You can learn more at the Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre, located in downtown Courtenay. Highlights include its late Cretaceous marine fossils, including the 13-metre-long elasmosaur and the new species and genus of mosasaur, Kourisodon puntledgensis.

Plan your future adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!

British ColumbiaCanadaComox ValleyRoyal BC Museumvancouverisland

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Strathcona Gardens is one of many recreation opportunities that could be investigated during a feasibility study. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Strathcona rural and municipal directors disagree on recreation study

Rural directors say study would not affect them, don’t want to pay for it

Red dresses hang on the Longhouse at Campbell River’s Robert Ostler Park on May 5, which is designated as Red Dress Day to commemorate murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. A gathering at the Longhouse was held to mark the day and the MMWIG. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Campbell River gathering commemorates murdered and missing women and girls

Red Dress Day marked by ceremony at Robert Ostler Park

City of Campbell River crews work to repair a four-inch water main near Carihi Secondary School. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Main break leaves Campbell River neighbourhood without water

Students sent home early from Carihi Secondary, businesses closed

The arena at Strathcona Gardens could be in the running for the 2022 Kraft Hockeyville competition. File photo – Campbell River Mirror
Strathcona Gardens eyes 2022 Kraft Hockeyville competition

Winner gets to host a pre-season NHL game and $250,000 to help fix their arena

Carl Kolonsky CROP. Photo by Luke Shields
Campbell River veteran receives flowers, letter of thanks from Dutch student on Liberation Day

Dutch city honours Canadian WWII veterans for role in liberating the Netherlands

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police photo of suspected cat thief was just a woman with her own cat

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether Alberta woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

Woman was taken off life support 12 days after getting vaccine

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports first vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

Allayah Yoli Thomas had recently turned 12 years old when she died of a suspected drug overdose April 15. (Courtesy of Adriana Londono)
Suspected overdose death of Vancouver Island 12 year old speaks to lack of supports

Allayah Yoli Thomas was found dead by her friend the morning of April 15

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read