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 eighty 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 thirty 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.

RELATED STORY: Fossil discovery could be Comox Valley’s second elasmosaur

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.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Comox ValleyRoyal BC Museum

Just Posted

The City of Nanaimo has developed concepts for an extension of the Harbourfront Walkway from Departure Bay ferry terminal to Departure Bay Beach. (City of Nanaimo image)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: City hasn’t shown it has capability to build walkway

Is it really a good idea to consider a hyper-expensive, complicated mega-project, asks letter writer

Regional District of Nanaimo directors discussed asking the provincial government for increased funding, awareness and enforcement against human trafficking. (File photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo asking province to better address human trafficking issue

Directors agree to write to the premier and solicitor-general after hearing from advocate

Conductor Willi Zwozdesky and pianist Nico Rhodes led 66 local vocalists in song for the Nanaimo Sings video project Keeping Calm and Singing On. (YouTube screen shot)
Nanaimo Sings virtual performance features 66 vocalists

Fifth Nanaimo Sings festival was to have taken place this year

The bow-legged bear was seen roaming 2nd Avenue on Friday, May 7 and again in Brown Drive Park on May 13. (Submitted photo)
Bow-legged Ladysmith bear euthanized after vet examination

CO Stuart Bates said the bear had obvious health issues

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
UPDATE: Queen presents Nanaimo doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

A driver was taken to hospital after crashing a pickup truck into a tree on Rutherford Road near Bradbury Road on Friday, May 14. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Driver taken to hospital after crashing truck into tree on Rutherford hill in Nanaimo

RCMP investigating incident at Rutherford and Bradbury roads on Friday, May 14

Tamara Cameron, Uplands Park Elementary School music teacher and librarian, students Ben Leduc, second from left, Avery Kojima and Kinley Robson, as well as other music students from the school, will benefit from $8,000 from MusiCounts, for instruments and recording equipment. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Money for new instruments music to ears of Uplands Park school staff and students

Grant from music education charity MusiCounts means students will have more ways to be creative

Sarah Boileau in her home studio on Monday, May 10. Boileau’s work will be on display at the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville through May 30. (Submitted photo)
RCMP arrested a man in north Nanaimo who wound up empty-handed after allegedly failing at shoplifting, bank robbery and robbery at ATM machine. (File photo)
Man arrested in Nanaimo after failed attempts at bank robbery, ATM mugging, shoplifting

RCMP arrest suspect in office-supply store after ‘short-lived crime spree’

Most Read