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Prehistoric beast found on Vancouver Island becomes B.C. provincial fossil

The province has announced that the elasmosaur, found on Vancouver Island, is now its official fossil emblem.

The large marine reptile lived along the B.C. coast dating back to the Cretaceous period, around 80 million years ago. It was discovered in 1988 in the Comox Valley’s Puntledge River by Mike Trask and his daughter Heather.

It was the first discovery of the animal west of the Canadian Rockies, according to the province. Since then, another was found in 2020 by Pat Trask and both are on display at the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre.

The process of naming the beast as provincial fossil began in 2018 with a public vote. Around 5,000 votes were cast and the elasmosaur got around 48 per cent of the votes.

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Tourism, arts, culture and sport minister Lana Popham says the designation will help raise awareness that B.C. has a fossil heritage.

“British Columbia has a rich and diverse variety of fossils and fossil deposits that are a historical record of the evolution and development of life on Earth,” said Popham. “I am excited the elasmosaur fossil has been declared an official emblem of the province.”

Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre executive director Deborah Griffiths adds the designation will help bring more attention to B.C.’s natural history.

“The proclamation of a new fossil emblem for B.C. recognizes the significance this 80-million-year-old fossil holds in representing British Columbia’s diverse natural history,” said Griffiths.

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“The elasmosaur fossil is a remarkable discovery from B.C.’s prehistoric past and now, as the official provincial fossil, will help spark further interest in B.C.’s ancient ecosystems, while supporting palaeontological work, STEAM education and tourism in this province.

The elasmosaur joins other provincial emblems like the Pacific dogwood, stellar’s jay, spirit bear, Pacific salmon, jade and western red cedar.

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