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

Carey Newman resigned from the Greater Victoria School District’s Indigenous Ad Hoc Committee May 13, citing ‘a pattern of systemic racism.’ (Black Press Media file photo)
‘Pattern of systemic racism’: SD61 Indigenous committee member resigns, calls for change

More than 350 people had added their names in support by midday Friday

The Greater Victoria School District continues to face backlash over its wording and approach to Indigenous learners in its 2021-2022 budget talks. (Black Press Media file photo)
School district’s approach to Indigenous learners leaves Victoria teachers ‘disgusted’

Backlash grows over ‘pattern of colonial thinking permeating the leadership’

Commonwealth Place recreation centre was shut down before 8 a.m. on Friday following a power outage. (Saanich Parks, Recreation and Community Services/Twitter)
Saanich Commonwealth Place closed due to power outage, outdoor classes still running

Indoor classes, programs at pool and weight room halted

Royal Bay Secondary School students paint the crosswalk in front of their school in support of LGBTQ and marginalized members of the community (Royal Bay Secondary School photo)
Senior student leaves mark at Royal Bay Secondary School for LGBTQ+ students

Crosswalk at Colwood school painted in support of marginalized community members

An elderly man having a medical emergency in Mount Douglas Park on May 13 was rescued by firefighters and paramedics with the help of ATVs. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Rescue team uses ATVs to get man in medical distress out of Saanich park and to hospital

Cedarhill Road closed as firefighters, paramedics rescue man in Mount Douglas Park

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 11

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Superintendent Aaron Paradis, community services officer with the Surrey RCMP, during a media availability about a recent drug bust in Port Coquitlam. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Police seize 13 million ‘potentially fatal doses’ of pure fentanyl at B.C. drug lab

The evidence was seized at large, illicit drug manufacturing site in Port Coquitlam

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth debates the province’s latest measure to control crime, March 10, 2021. The legislation allows police to impound vehicles used to transport weapons and further restricts sale of vehicle and body armour. (B.C. legislature video)
B.C. seeking ways to ‘name and shame’ gangsters, minister says

Mike Farnworth appeals to family members to talk to police

Jonathan Prest had to climb way up to the top of a dead red cedar tree to rescue a terrified cat, but he made it up and down successfully. (Facebook photos)
Tree cutter rescues cat stuck 100 feet up a dead and dried-out cedar

Jonathan Prest put himself in extreme peril to get a terrified cat out of a dangerous situation

Most Read