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Dinosaur fossil unearthed at Mildred Lake

Last Updated Apr 10, 2023 at 9:36 am MST

Geologists observe the fossilized remains of a plesiosaur recently discovered by workers at the Syncrude Mildred Lake site on march 12, 2023. Photo supplied by Suncor.

An eagle-eyed Suncor worker is being applauded for a discovery some 115 million years in the making.

Officials with the Royal Tyrrell Museum have confirmed the fossilized remains of a plesiosaur were found at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site on March 12.

Employee Jenna Plamondon, who started her first dayshift at the mine, said she noticed a contrast in the oilsand.

“I kept staring at this little chunk of dirt. As a shovel operator, we’re trained to see things that are out of the ordinary. We take a lot of pride in our pit and keeping the area clean.”

Plamondon notified the site Geology team and decided to move the shovel in case it was an actual fossil.

A rare find

Plesiosaurs are marine reptiles known to have lived in Alberta 115 million years ago, when the area was just a large, shallow sea.

Dr. Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, said the find is unique as cases are usually found higher up in the McMurray Formation layer.

“This one may have been buried in a storm, which put a great deal of sand on top of the carcass all at once. This presents very unusual preservation conditions. It’s so rare for things to become fossils, especially big things such as marine reptiles and dinosaurs. It’s only the fact that we’re shifting so much rock here, that we’re fortunate to see this small piece of fossil.”

This particular fossil Plamondon found is part of a plesioaur’s tail.

Henderson said it’s possible the dinosaur died, washed up into shallow water, and was buried by sand during a storm.

Geologists will take the remains to the museum in Drumheller for further study.

Jenna Plamondon said she’s proud of the role her shovel team played in the discovery.

“I’m really excited because if the fossil ends up being displayed at the museum, I’ll get to show my one-year-old son what mom found. Not every shovel operator gets to find one, so it’s pretty cool that I’m one of the few.”

The first fossil discovery at a Syncrude site was made in 1994, with over a dozen similar finds since then.

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Suncor employee Jenna Plamondon was operating a hydraulic shovel at Mildred Lake Mine when a contrast in the oil sand caught her eye. Photo supplied by Suncor.

 

Meanwhile, the discovery of a nodosaur fossil, Alberta’s oldest dinosaur, was found at Suncor’s Base Plant in 2011.