Man Stumbles Upon Prehistoric Sea Turtle Fossil That Could Be a New Species

An amateur fossil hunter has discovered an ancient fossilized sea turtle on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Russell Ball came across the ancient fossil during a walk along the Puntledge River in January, he told The Canadian Press news agency for a report published on Sunday.

At one point in the walk, Ball—a retired military explosives disposal expert who has collected thousands of fossils in his lifetime—noticed something unusual in the ground and began digging to see what he could find.

"Every single time I do that, it's the same fun as opening a gift. You don't know what's going to be inside there," he told The Canadian Press.

"And when you find a fossil, you're the only person in the history of humans to have ever seen that creature."

Extremely exciting #FossilFriday News: "Royal BC Museum collects unidentified prehistoric sea turtle fossil!"
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— Royal BC Museum (@RoyalBCMuseum) May 21, 2021

After finding the fossil, Ball contacted the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society, who agreed that it was likely an ancient sea turtle. He also contacted the Royal British Columbia Museum and the British Columbia Fossil Management Office.

In April, Derek Larson, paleontology collections manager for the museum, collected the extracted fossil, which is now being kept at the facility.

"Russell Ball and the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society did everything right," Larson said in a museum press release. "They recognized the discovery's significant scientific value and immediately set to work ensuring the fossil would end up where everyone in B.C. will be able to access and study it."

Experts have determined the fossil to be around 84 million years old. And museum officials think the remains may represent one of two known species of ancient sea turtle that have previously been found in the area. There is also the possibility that the fossil could belong to a new species altogether.

"Either way, this discovery is a win for paleontology in British Columbia," Larson said in the museum press release. "If the fossil is a known species, we'll learn a lot of new information about that species because these specimens are rare and, so far, incomplete.

"If the fossil turns out to be a species that is new to science, that could exponentially advance our understanding of marine ecosystems millions of years ago."

Experts at the museum are now preparing the fossil and examining it in fine detail to understand what species it represents.

The Puntledge River is a site that is known to be rich in fossilized invertebrates—animals without backbones. But discoveries involving vertebrates—animals with backbones, such as sea turtles—have been much rarer.

A sea turtle
Stock image showing a green turtle. An amateur fossil hunter has discovered the remains of a prehistoric sea turtle on Vancouver Island. iStock