Believe it or not, southern Alberta was once underwater and home to some pretty large sea creatures.
On Jan. 26, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology answered a call from a mining company to inform them of a potential fossil discovery just south of Lethbridge.
“The guys were just digging this winter and looking for ammonite, and we came across what looked like fossilized bone,” explained Enchanted Designs mine manager Michael Shideler.
Ammonite itself is a type of fossil, but this discovery was different. Shideler said they contacted the museum, which sent out a crew.
They determined the bones belonged to a mosasaur, an animal that would likely have been alive during the late Cretaceous period, swimming through the area 70-75 million years ago.
“Imagine a Komodo dragon that was about five to six metres in length with flippers,” said the museum’s head technician Joe Sanchez.
On Feb. 7, a government team began a full excavation of the site. Most of the animal has been recovered, which Sanchez said is quite rare.
“We have all the way from the tip of the tail, and then we do have the skull that we’ve already collected. We have parts of the backbone as well,” he added.
“We have a femur, a little bit of the hip and some of the shoulder, and some of the flippers as well.”
Sanchez said the fossils of a second mosasaur were found as mine members continued digging in the area. Typically, excavations are difficult in the winter, but mild temperatures have worked in their favour.
Enchanted Designs has made other discoveries at its mine in the past, including a plesiosaur last year.
“It’s quite a large ancient seabed through here, and we’re finding a lot of fossils, which, in turn, we’re finding a lot of specimens for the Royal Tyrrell, which they’re really excited about,” Shideler said.
“We’re really excited to work with them.”
Once the rest of the fossils are excavated, they will all be transported to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to be preserved.
“After we prepare the fossil at the museum, it’s always possible (it will) go out on display, and that way it helps out too with education to the public,” Sanchez added.