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25-million-year-old fossil find leads to new bird species

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Thursday, December 17, 2015, 4:24 PM - The fossilized remains of a 25-million-year-old flightless bird was found on southern Vancouver Island.

Researchers have identified the animal as a new species of plotopterid, an extinct penguin-like bird, related to gannets and boobies. The type of bird has never been found in Canada.

The fossil is a collarbone from the bird and it's only the second set of fossilized bird bones discovered on southern Vancouver Island since 1985, according to the Royal B.C. Museum.

The collarbone - Palaeontologia Electronica

Because bird fossils are so fragile, it is extremely rare to find them.

"It's extraordinary to think this bird survived predation, burial, earthquakes, plate tectonics, heating, alteration, potential dissolution, uplift and weathering," said Royal BC Museum Paleontology Collections manager Marji Johns.

A family was out for a walk on a Sooke, B.C. beach about two years ago when they spotted the bone in a slab of a rock.

The collarbone is the best bone to discover aside from the skull, according to bird expert Gary Kaiser of the museum.

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"It is the most informative bone in a bird skeleton. It tells you more than anything else about what the bird does for a living," Kaiser told CBC.

Experts say the bird was about the size of cormorant.

With the help of colleague Junya Watanabe from Kyoto University, Japan, Kaiser named the bird Stemec suntokum. It means 'long-necked waterbird' in the language of the T'Sou-Ke First Nations people.

Source: Palaeontologia Electronica | CBC | Royal BC Museum

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