'It's an honour': Newly discovered fossil fish species named after Vancouver Island collector
Researches say that an approximately 25 million year old fish fossil found in Sooke by a Vancouver Island collector is the first of its kind to be discovered: (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- A new genus and species of prehistoric fish has been named after a Vancouver Island collector who discovered a well-preserved fossil of the creature in Sooke.
The species, named the Canadodus suntoki by Russian researcher Evgeny Popov, is named after collector Steve Suntok who donated the fossil to the Royal BC Museum in 2014.
The name roughly translates to “tooth from Canada,” as the fossil is part of a fish dental plate.
Popov, who is one of the world’s leading experts on fossil holocephalian fishes, says that the fossil that Suntok found is an entirely new fish compared to anything found before.
“I knew it was something significant. Not necessarily a new species but something significant,” Suntok told CTV News Thursday.
The fossil dental plate indicates that the fish was likely a type of Chimaeridae, which is a species of fish that feeds on invertebrates by crushing their shells on its hard flat dental plates, before eating the animal inside, according to researchers.
Suntok found the fossil in a northwest portion of Sooke. Researchers say that Sooke is an excellent area for paleontological discoveries, with a variety of fossils at the Royal BC Museum coming from the region.
Ancient whale vertebrae and rib specimens have been found in Sooke and donated to the museum, as well as a potential terrestrial mammal bone, fossil leaves, and many invertebrate fossils, such as oysters, barnacles and snails.
The Suntok family has experience finding and preserving fossils on Vancouver Island. Many fossils discovered by the family have been donated to the Royal BC Museum, including a new water bird coracoid bone which was named after Steve Suntok’s daughter, Leah, in 2015, named the Stemec suntokum.
“Because of erosion, every time we go there there’s something new,” said Suntok.
“New things get exposed so from time to time I go back just to check out the site. On this occasion I found something I’d never seen before, which was pretty exciting.”
Researchers say that cliff faces near Muir Creek and beaches near Kirby Creek in Sooke “easily contain the richest exposures of fossils near Victoria.” Fossils in the area tend to date back approximately 25 million years.
Vancouver Island paleontologist Marji Johns, who is a co-author into research on the Canadodus suntoki, says that she was thrilled by the discovery.
Johns says that very few paleontologists in B.C. and Canada are able to do field work while conducting research and that volunteer collectors like the Suntok family are largely responsible for finding rare and usual fossils..
Suntok says that having the Canadodus suntoki named after him is a dream come true.
“I’m ecstatic about it. It’s the dream of every amateur collector,” he said.
“It’s an honour. I don’t deserve it, but I’m extremely appreciative of it.”