Stephen Suntok pushes thru a tangle of blackberry bushes

Suntok appears up for a moment, watching on the faded sky, then selections his manner down a seaside get right of entry to clogged with tree trunks. Along the shore, the tide has retreated, revealing an expanse of boulders covered in blankets of slick, verdant algae. Seagulls wheel overhead because the waters of close by Muir Creek circulate the Salish Sea.

Suntok works as a crook protection attorney in Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, however he spends tons of his spare time withinside the provider of science, accumulating uncommon fossils that he donates to museums. For as a minimum a decade and a half, he has searched beaches and river gorges throughout Vancouver Island, accumulating a huge form of fossilized specimens—which includes the dental plate of a formerly unknown fish, Canadodus suntoki, which paleontologists named after him, and an extraordinary species of crab from a seaside close to Campbell River, wherein the species turned into as soon as plentiful.

But of the numerous webweb sites he assessments regularly, few fit the rock formations alongside Muir Creek seaside in terms of vertebrate fossils. In a few spots, the sandstone cliffs and intertidal boulders are studded with fossil shells and bits of fossilized bone that date to greater than 23 million years ago. It’s on this historical boneyard that Suntok has made a number of his maximum exciting discoveries—the fragmentary stays of historical whales that lived and died withinside the ocean right here tens of hundreds of thousands of years ago. This morning, Suntok has agreed to take me alongside for a go to to this fossil site.

In the distance, lush inexperienced wooded area spills over the tops of the cliffs that border the seaside. As we slowly method the site, weaving alongside the slippery seaside rocks, Suntok starts offevolved scanning each boulder we byskip for fossils. Up close, the curved, overhung cliff face appears barren and austere, like some thing from a sci-fi film set on every other planet. Each layer of stratigraphy is a stark stripe of brown, beige, or gray, and a few are flecked with white shells. These rocks date to an epoch called the Oligocene, which stretched from 33.nine to 23 million years ago.

It turned into a time of worldwide cooling, while grasslands improved on land, and mammals together with horses, camels, and primates started out spreading out. Suntok slides a couple of analyzing glasses onto his nose, then hunches down and rolls onto his returned to get a higher study a low shelf close to the bottom of the cliff. Fossils can every now and then be extraordinarily hard to spot, he explains. The first vertebrate fossils he located at Muir Creek belonged to an extinct species of Oligocene whale, however initially, all he should see at the floor of the rock turned into a tiny half-moon-fashioned irregularity. It turned into the top of a fossilized bone. Subsequent excavation discovered 3 fossil vertebrae locked withinside the rock.

Since then, Suntok has scoured this seaside dozens of times. It constantly appears different, he says, due to the fact the waves chip away on the cliffs, revealing new surfaces to check. At the bottom of the cliff, Suntok maintains poring over the low shelf, checking small irregularities withinside the rock. Soon, he spots a sliver of fossilized bone—probably a small fragment of a rib from an historical marine mammal. But Suntok opts to go away it in place. It’s only a scrap and eliminating it with out the proper equipment might bring about damage. He is handiest sporting a hammer and chisel today.

In British Columbia, fossils located on Crown land are included as history gadgets beneathneath the Land Act, and fossil hunters are required to file fundamental reveals in order that professional researchers can take them out with the right equipment and methods. But it’s true exercise to file fossils each time they’re located.

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