Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, with the fossil.
Photo by Royal Tyrrell Museum

Catch of the year: Albertan fishermen discover rare dinosaur fossil

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Two men fishing along the banks of Castle River in Southern Alberta caught a glimpse of something far more exciting than a big fat trout—they spotted the remains of a duck-billed dinosaur.

Earlier this summer, the two anglers discovered their catch and immediately reported their findings to the paleontology staff at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., a region known as Dinosaur Valley.

Experts at the museum believe the fossil, which was wedged inside a 1,300-kilogram block, is a potentially new species of hadrosaur, duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaur with an elongated skull. The fossil could be anywhere from 66 to 100 million-years-old and clearly shows parts of the spine, jaw, and teeth.

“Based on the eroded and exposed teeth, as well as its size, we are confident that it is a hadrosaurian dinosaur,” says Donald Henderson, curator of dinosaurs, in a release on the museum’s website. Duck-billed dinosaurs had hundreds of teeth that lined both the upper and lower parts of the jaw.

Close-up of the fossil
Close-up of the fossil

 

Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, with the fossil.
Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, with the fossil.

It’s believed that during the 2013 summer floods in Southern Alberta, the boulder with the rare fossil flowed downstream.

“It is rather surprising that any part of a dinosaur fossil could survive being tumbled in a river full of cobbles and boulders,” says Henderson. The boulder was so heavy, it took five men to place a retrieving net underneath it and then a helicopter to airlift it out of the riverbank and into a waiting truck.

Boulder with fossil being airlifted out of the Castle River
Boulder with fossil being airlifted out of the Castle River

“This is coming from a place where we haven’t had dinosaurs before,” Henderson says. “It’s in the extreme southwest of the province, so I think this will be a significant specimen. We’re going to learn a lot from it.”

While museum researchers have found many fossils following the floods, this fossil is significant because it contains an intact skull, a rare find since most are discovered crushed or flattened.

In the next year, museum researchers will examine the fossil and determine if it is a new species. In the meantime, we can daydream about a mustachioed Chris Pratt playing a park ranger in the new Jurassic World movie. 2015 is going to be a big year for dinosaurs.

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