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

Shuswap Immigrant Services Society plans to hold a vigil on Friday, June 25 at 8 p.m. to honour the victims of what officials are calling a terrorist attack on five Muslims in London, Ont. (File photo)
Salmon Arm council holds minute of silence to honour victims of Ontario attack

Shuswap Immigrant Services Society plans vigil for Muslim family on June 25, 8 p.m. at McGuire Lake

A first-dose mobile vaccination clinic is being held on Tuesday, June 15 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Salmon Arm fairgrounds, west entrance across from spray park. (Interior Health image)
Location for Salmon Arm’s June 15 COVID-19 mobile vaccine clinic changes slightly

Immunization clinic still at fairgrounds but people attending asked to use different entrance

Felix Haase and Jayme Saretzky staff a pop-up booth to support the Salmon Arm Pride Project on the patio of the newly reopened Wild Craft Mercantile at 121 Shuswap St. on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Wild Craft Mercantile in Salmon Arm holds grand reopening, celebrates Pride month

Store moves from Lakeshore to Shuswap, demonstrates support for Pride project

A City of Salmon Arm vacuum truck cleans out the city storm drain on Hudson Avenue in Salmon Arm Monday morning, June 14 after a crane truck blew a hydraulic line, spewing oil onto the road. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Fire trucks called to small oil spill in Salmon Arm

Traffic delayed on Hudson Avenue Monday morning after crane truck blows hydraulic line

Tim Gibson joined the Shuswap Children’s Association on June 14, 2021. He is taking over the executive director position as June Stewart is retiring on June 30, 2021. (File photo)
New executive director joins Shuswap Children’s Association

Outgoing executive director June Stewart to retire on June 30, 2021

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

(Dave Ogilvie photo)
One injured after being pinned by fallen forklift near Peachland

West Kelowna emergency crews responded to reports of a person stuck under a forklift

Penticton Overdose Prevention Society co-founders Desiree Franz, Shane Surowski and Stephanie Lines have created the city’s first unsanctioned public overdose prevention site using an old wine-tour bus. The site began operations in June 2021. (Desiree Franz/Facebook)
Volunteers launch Penticton’s first public supervised injection site

2021 is on pace to be the deadliest year for overdoses in Penticton on record

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Bentley resting on a bench at Kal Park in Vernon not knowing there is a baby rattlesnake curled up below. Bentley jumped down and was bitten by the snake. (Facebook)
Dog bit by baby rattler at popular Vernon park

The rattlesnake was hidden underneath a park bench when it struck

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

Most Read