Sikanni Chief River ichthyosaur fossil in the running for provincial distinction

More than 200 million years ago, the Shonisaurus sikanniensis was the monster of the seas, trawling through the currents of what is now the present-day Sikanni Chief River. 

Now, the remains of the 70-foot long marine beast, found preserved in limestone on the banks of the river in the 1990s, is up for consideration as B.C.'s provincial fossil.

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Shonisaurus-sikanniensis
Shonisaurus sikanniensis (Ichthyosaur).

Seven fossils have been shortlisted for the distinction, and British Columbians have until Nov. 23 to cast their votes on which should be chosen.

"The designation of a Provincial fossil supports the principles of the Fossil Management Framework," the province says. 

"The Framework recognizes fossils as important heritage resources with scientific and educational value."

Shonisaurus sikanniensis is a type of ichthyosaur, which means fish lizard in Greek, and the fossil discovered along the Sikanni Chief River dates back between 210 to 220 million years ago during the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era. 

Ichthyosaurs had a large whale-like body, a long dolphin-like snout, and flippers that were used for propulsion and balance while swimming, according to the province. Some were the largest marine reptiles to have lived in the world’s seas, and include some of the largest fossils that have ever been found, the province says.

According to the Royal Tyrell Museum, scientists were deterred from excavating the fossil due to its size and remote location. But palaeontologist Dr. Elizabeth Nicholls "embraced the challenge," and the fossil was excavated over three field sessions from 1999 to 2001.

In a 2016 article, National Geographic called the find the "biggest prehistoric marine reptile ever found" — its skull measured a remarkable 18 feet.

The animal lacked teeth, and is believed to be the earliest known example of a giant filter-feeding verterbrate, according to the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Ichthyosaur fossils have also been found in the rocks of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.

Click here to cast your vote.

Voting ends Nov. 23, and the fossil with the most votes will be recommended for consideration as the provincial fossil.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

bcfossilcandidates
B.C. provincial fossil candidates
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