During a fossil expedition to a beach near Muir Creek northwest of Sooke six years ago, an amateur collector made the discovery of his life – a rare new Chimaeridae fish.
After donating his mysterious find to the Royal B.C. Museum, Steve Suntok recently learned the skeletal remains, a mandibular dental plate, was an iconic fish from the Upper Oligocene age.
Identified as a new species, it has been named Canadodus suntoki – Canadodus means “tooth from Canada,” and suntoki is named after Suntok.
The fish would have lived about 25 million years ago.
“Every find’s exciting, but this one especially so,” Suntok said last week.
“It was unusual, but I didn’t know what I found. It’s always fun when this stuff contributes to science.”
The find was documented in this month’s Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Russian researcher Evgeny Popov. Victoria paleontologist Marji Johns and Suntok co-authored the paper.
Chimaeridae is a family of cartilaginous fishes that typically have short rounded snouts and long tapered tails.
The fossil dental plate is broad and strong, indicating the fish fed on invertebrates using its dentition to crush shells to extract the nutritious animal inside.
These fishes rarely preserve well in the fossil record, making this fossil find of high importance, John said.
“This find is a one-and-only and it’s the first found from the West Coast of Canada. It’s extremely rare,” John said.
The Suntok family are skilled fossil collectors. They have discovered many fossils near Sooke and donated important ones to the Royal B.C. Museum.
Suntok’s daughter on a family outing found a coracoid bone of a new water bird. In 2015, it was identified and named Stemec suntokum by Royal B.C. Museum research associate Gary Kaiser.
Suntok has added to the museum’s Sooke-area fossil collection: whale vertebrae specimens, ribs, a seal bone, a potential terrestrial mammal bone, fish bones, fossil leaves and many invertebrate fossils (snails, clams, mussels, oysters, corals, brachiopods, barnacles, echinoderms, and tubeworms).
“Steve has a very keen eye. You need to stand there and look at the rock and know what you’re looking for, and then you might see things,” John said.