Nfld. & Labrador

Northern Arm, N.L., man unearths piece of history with plesiosaur fossil found at Syncrude mine

Scott Fisher loves to discover things — but he still wasn't expecting to find the ancient fossilized remains of a marine reptile: a plesiosaur.

'I could see the rest of the skull shape in the rock,' says Scott Fisher

Scott Fisher stands near where he found a plesiosaur skull at a Fort McMurray area worksite. (Syncrude)

At first, Scott Fisher didn't realize what he'd found. 

The geotechnical instrumentation technician from Northern Arm, N.L., was doing some routine work at Syncrude Canada's North Mine site, about 64 kilometres from Fort McMurray, in early June.

"It was still a little wet from the spring melt, so I decided to walk to an area I'd normally drive to, and when I was walking along a ridge of a crest, I walked down over the slope, and it was there in front of me," he said.

Row of teeth

Fisher thought "it" was a long and slender piece of wood — until he noticed a row of teeth on one side.

"Then I could see the rest of the skull shape in the rock," he said. Pretty quickly he realized he'd found the fossilized remains of a plesiosaur — a marine reptile.

"I called my supervisors and called my family and let them know," he said, knowing Syncrude officials would want to confirm the find.

"They get fossil discoveries every now and then, and it's not really a fossil, it's just something different in the ground, so they brushed it off kinda lightly in the beginning, but from the picture it's pretty easy to tell that it's a skull."

At first, Fisher said, he thought he'd found just a piece of wood — until he noticed the row of teeth. (Syncrude)

The find prompted a visit from experts from the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., and Fisher spent a couple of days with them as they excavated the fossil.

"They really brought the story to life," he said. "To me, it's just bones. I have no idea what it is, where it lived, how old it is — they know a lot of information about it from other finds."

The area where Fisher found the fossil was once underwater, under a giant inland sea that came up from the Rockies, estimated to have extended as far east as Winnipeg and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Area was underwater

"They think it was about 50 metres deep as well in the time range that they think the marine reptiles lived, about 112 million years ago," he said.

Fisher said he was thrilled when he realized he'd found a piece of history.

"I like discovery. When I'm hiking in the woods, I always want to see what's around the next turn," he said.

"So I was just very excited. The geology in Newfoundland's a lot older. I know Manuels River has a really good fossil bed for trilobites, but that's mostly what you're going to find. Mistaken Point as well is a really good fossil area in Newfoundland. But the geology here in Fort McMurray is quite younger, so they can find some bigger creatures.

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