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

Brenda and Steve Smith with a photo of Derek Descoteau. It’s been five years since Derek was murdered in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Friends provide continuing comfort for family in wake of unresolved Chemainus murder

Case remains before the courts five years after Derek Descoteau’s abrupt stabbing death in Chemainus

Fast action by Chemainus Fire Department crews prevented a motorhome fire from inflicting more serious damage on adjacent homes. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Fast action by Chemainus crews limits the damage from motorhome fire

Adjacent homes under threat from intense blaze

The former St. Joseph’s School converted to the St. Joseph’s Art Studios in 2019. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Former Chemainus St. Joseph’s School site sold to addictions recovery group

Diocese stresses the importance of a community outreach option in its decision

North Cowichan Coun. Christopher Justice said he believes the community will not be served well with the resignation of Chris Crowther from the OCP advisory council. (File photo)
Member of North Cowichan’s OCP advisory committee quits

Chris Crowther said OCP process devisive

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

Troy Patterson, a Cadboro Bay 15-year-old, got a virtual meeting with B.C.’s environment minister months after he started an online petition calling for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline to stop. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
B.C. teen’s 23,000-name Coastal GasLink petition gets him an audience with the minister

15-year-old Saanich high school student and George Heyman discussed project for about 30 minutes

Victoria police responded to a vehicle where this dog was found in distress due to the heat after being left inside. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Two Victoria distress calls a reminder that hot cars can be fatal to dogs left inside

Victoria police found two dogs in a car with an internal temperature of 47 C on Friday

A game camera near the Klahoose reservation on Cortes Island caught this glimpse of a truck leaving the woodlot at around 2:30 on Sunday morning. Photo supplied by Klahoose First Nation
Indigenous cutblock vandalised on Cortes Island, anti-logging element suspected

Ribbons pulled down, gravel poured into gas tank at Klahoose First Nation site

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Announced Tuesday, May 18 by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, the province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory (AP/Steven Senne)
Masks now required at all times inside B.C. gyms, including during workouts

The province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory Tuesday

Reinhard “Bud” Loewen of Abbotsford has now been charged with 21 counts of sexual assault related to his massage business. (Facebook photo)
Former Abbotsford masseur now faces 21 counts of sexual assault

Bud Loewen of Bud’s Massage Therapy initally faced three charges

Over the years, police have worked with sketch artists to draw what the boys could have looked like at the times of their deaths. (Vancouver Police Department)
DNA breakthrough expected in cold case involving murdered Vancouver boys, 7 and 8

Forensic analysts are working to identify relatives of the children, whose bodies were found in Stanley Park in 1953

Livestock competitions have been part of the Pacific National Exhibiton for more than a century. (Maple Ridge News files)
B.C. provides $50 million to keep major tourist attractions going

Tour bus companies also eligible for latest COVID-19 aid

Most Read