Mark Turner may have found the fossilized remains of an ancient marine reptile at a fossil site south of Ladysmith.
“I had a friend tip me off about a fossil site. I was searching for some heteromorph ammonites, lo’ and behold, I ended up cutting some shells. I looked in one of the pieces of rock and there was a small bone fragment in it,” Turner said.
This isn’t Turner’s first fossil find. When he was 12-years-old, Turner and his friend Daniel Helm helped identify the Tumbler Ridge dinosaur track way in 2000. The early discover has led to a life long fossil hunting hobby for Turner.
When he found the fragments at the site in south Ladysmith, he knew how to identify them from his previous experiences. Although he’s made some lucky finds in his life, Turner does not have the scientific background to identify fossils. For that work, he tapped Pat Trask of the Courtenay and District Museum. Trask recently discovered the remains of an elasmosaur on the banks of the Trent River.
Trask was excited by the find, and suggested that Turner contact Victoria Arbour, the Curator of Paleontology at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Arbour believes that the bone fragments belong to a marine reptile, or an ancient turtle.
“It’s hard to say exactly what we’re looking at right now, but they definitely look like bones. Based on the rock that they come from they could be from something like a plesiosaur — which are long-necked marine reptiles that lived at the same time of dinosaurs, but isn’t a dinosaur — it could also be something like a big marine turtle, or something like a mosasaurus,” Arbour said.
“What’s cool about this find is we don’t have a lot of bones from the [Ladysmith] area in the museum’s collection, so even if we can’t identify it right now, it’s a record of the fact that we could find more things like it in the future if people keep their eyes open out there.”
Identifying a fossil is tricky work, and is entirely dependent on the state of the fossilized bone fragments. Arbour said that some bone fragments are impossible to identify. Based on the size of the bones, Arbour doesn’t believe they bones are remains of a shark or a fish. Unfortunately, Arbour doesn’t believe the remains are from a dinosaur either.
“They’re less likely to be a dinosaur, mostly because those lived on land. To get them out in the ocean, while not impossible, it’s not as likely as finding animals that actually lived in the ocean. It’s not impossible though,” she said.
No matter what species the bones end up belonging to, finding fossilized bones on Vancouver Island is rare in itself. Arbour encourages anyone with an interest in finding fossils to head out hunting for them, and share their finds with the Royal BC Museum. She cautioned amateur fossil hunters to use care with their fossil finds, and write detailed notes about the location of the fossil, then contact experts like Turner did.
“It’s so easy to break things when you try to dig fossils up. When I go and excavate things I have special tools, special glues, and I’ve been trained on how to excavate things without breaking them. If you’re not a hundred percent sure what to do, it’s always great to just ask someone,” she said.
As for Turner, he’s just happy to get outside and hopes his finds can contribute to science.
“Part of what drives me is that learning factor, and being able to be a part of why we’re learning. Being a part of the knowledge is almost as exciting as finding the bones themselves.”
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