They found this mighty marine reptile in the winter of 1988 while fossil collecting along the Puntledge River.
While he couldn't have known it at the time, it was this discovery and those that followed that would spark a renewed interest in palaeontology on Vancouver Island and the province of British Columbia., inspire the creation of the Vancouver Palaeontological Society, the BC Paleontological Alliance & change the face of palaeo in the province.
Mike had forged ahead, adding chalk outlines to interesting fossil and nodules in the 83 million-year-old shales along the riverbank. His daughter, Heather, was looking at the interesting features he had just outlined when they both noticed some tasty blocks and concretions in situ just a few meters away. Taking a closer look, they were thrilled to discover that they held the bones of a large marine reptile.
It was Betsy who had written up the incomplete specimen of fossil turtle, Desmatochelys cf. D. lowi — Reptilia: Chelonioidea — found by Richard Bolt, Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society, in the shales of the Trent River Formation along the Puntledge River in the early 1990s.
Dr. Nicholls wrote up the paper and published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences in 1992. At that time, it was the first documented account of a Cretaceous marine vertebrate from the Pacific coast of Canada, which shows you how much we've learned about our Pacific coast in just the last few years.
The Desmatchelys find inspired the 1999 BCPA Symposium conference logo. Every second year, the BCPA hosts a symposium. The 1999 conference at UBC was the first time the Vancouver Paleontological Society had hosted a BCPA conference. The conference abstract was graced with a trilobite embedded within a turtle, celebrating recent significant contributions to Canadian palaeontology.
When the bones were fully excavated, this 15-meter marine beauty underwent a year of preparation to reveal the skeleton you see here. You can visit the fully prepped specimen and see the articulated bones beneath a glass case in the Courtenay Museum on Vancouver Island.
The Puntledge Elasmosaur has graced the cover of Canada's stamps and was voted as British Columbia's Provincial Fossil in 2019. This honour has the Puntledge Elasmosaur cosied up to other provincial symbols and emblems that include the Pacific Dogwood, Jade, the Steller's Jay, Western Red Cedar, Spirit Bear and Pacific Salmon.
The runner-up for BC's Provincial Fossil was Shonisaurus sikanniensis, a massive 21-metre ichthyosaur found in Triassic outcrops in northern British Columbia. That beauty is a worthy reminder of what hunted in our ancient oceans some 220 million years ago.
Since that first moment of discovery, many wonderful events transpired. In the Fall of 1991, Mike Trask was teaching a course on palaeontology at the North Island College.
|Heidi Henderson, Mike Trask & Adam Melzac, BCPA Symposium|
Within minutes of their search, Joe found a few small articulated vertebrae that we now know to be the type specimen of the mosasaur, Kourisodon puntledgensis. That find, along with some of the other paleontological goodies from the area, prompted the formation of the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society from an idea to a registered society in 1992. By 1993 membership had grown from a dozen to 250.
In 1992, the Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society passed a motion to encourage the formation of a provincial umbrella group to act as an advocate to promote interaction amongst various paleontological organizations. Through the efforts of Mike Trask, Dan Bowen, Rolf Ludvigsen and others, the first meeting of the Board of Directors of the B.C. Paleontological Alliance was held in 1993 and a BCPA Symposium held every two years thereafter.
If you like podcasts, check out the Fossil Huntress — Palaeo Sommelier Podcast at https://anchor.fm/fossil-huntress
Fossil Huntress Geeky Goodness on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUerL9urNX8fHb6nHc_vrBQ