New Brunswick

Scallop fishermen find walrus skull in Bay of Fundy

What was going to be a cold day out dragging for scallops on the Bay of Fundy turned out to be an exciting one for the captain and crew of the Sitansisk 1.

It's the 2nd skull found by the same boat in the same area in 3 years

David Underhill says he doesn't know if he'll donate the walrus skull to the New Brunswick Museum or bring it back to St. Mary's First Nation. (Submitted by David Underhill)

What was going to be a cold day out dragging for scallops on the Bay of Fundy turned out to be an exciting one for the captain and crew of the Sitansisk 1. 

In the scallop drag, David Underhill, a 28-year-old crew member from St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton, discovered a walrus skull with tusks attached.

"It was first thing in the morning, it was our first tow and we were just going out to pick the table to get the scallops on board, and I seen it right away." 

What Underhill could see among the scallop shells was the walrus skull and tusks. 

I couldn't believe it either. It's pretty lucky, I think.- David Underhill, scallop fisherman

"I knew the boys had found one before, so I kind of knew what it was right away." 

Underhill, who's been fishing since 2014, said he picked up the skull and showed it to the captain, Luke Paul. 

"We were all really excited." 

The last time a walrus was spotted in New Brunswick was believed to be in the 1700s. But walrus lived in the bay thousands of years before that as well. 

Same area, same time of year

Underhill holds the walrus skull and tusk he found when dragging for scallops in the Bay of Fundy. (Submitted by David Underhill)

Paul and another crew member were there when the first walrus skull and tusk were found, around the same time three years ago and in the same area. 

"I couldn't believe it either," Underhill said. "It's pretty lucky, I think."

After taking pictures of the skull, Underhill said he put it in a bucket of water to keep it from drying out and went back to fishing.

After a 14-hour day on the water, he turned the skull over to Don McAlpine, a mammalogist at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, so it could be examined. 

Ice Age walrus

The scallop fishermen said the other skull the crew donated was 9,000 to 10,000 years old, according to the museum.

They were told this one could be 900 to 10,000 years old. 

McAlpine could not be reached Friday. 

The walrus skull was the second one found by crew members of the Sitansisk 1, a fishing boat run by members of St. Mary's First Nation. (Submitted by David Underhill)

In 2016,  Randy Miller, the museum's former curator of geology and paleontology, told CBC News that walrus were part of Bay of Fundy life at the end of the Ice Age.

When glaciers retreated from the province 9,000 years ago, there were probably ice floes and icebergs in the Bay of Fundy. The animals would have been living in an environment very similar to what they live in today in the Arctic.

The museum has three other walrus skulls and other walrus bones recovered in New Brunswick since around 1900.

Those specimens were radio-carbon-dated to be about 9,000 to 10,000 years old.

While the skull found this week is now at the museum on loan, Underhill said he's undecided what he wants to do with it.

The fisherman said he'd like to see it brought back to St. Mary's First Nation, but said the museum advised against that, telling him it needs to be preserved correctly or it might deteriorate.