Stories of discovery: life under the sea

Editor’s note: We continue our series highlighting significant fossil discoveries found by members of the public. Remember, if you find a fossil, follow these instructions.

1997: Nichollsemys baieri (TMP 1997.099.0001)

Holotype skull of Nichollsemys baieri. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Life in southeastern Alberta was exciting for Ron Baier and his brother growing up near Taber. They enjoyed exploring the land and searching for rocks and fossils. Development of irrigation lines unearthed many interesting artifacts, including arrowheads. As the development slowed, Ron started branching out to new areas in search of artifacts and fossils.

Ron Baier with his fossil collection, including the skull of Nichollsemys. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

While prospecting near Chin Lake, Alberta in 1997, Ron found a rock about the size of a softball that seemed to have an eye hole and nostril. He contacted the Royal Tyrrell Museum and staff were sent to examine the find. Dr. Don Brinkman recognized it as the skull of a marine turtle. Using a CT scan, he determined it was the first of its kind known to science. Marine turtles swam the ancient Western Interior Seaway that covered much of western and central Canada during the Cretaceous Period.

Nichollsemys baieri on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

The specimen was officially described and named in 2006. Nichollsemys honours the late Dr. Betsy Nicholls, former Curator of Marine Reptiles at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and baieri recognizes Ron Baier. Ron attributes his keen eye to 35 years in agriculture, grading grain samples. When asked about his contribution to science, he affirms, “It’s not for yourself, it’s for your children and grandchildren. It will be in the history books forever.” Now in his seventies, Ron is proud to report that his grandchildren are becoming interested in palaeontology, and he hopes to inspire the same passion for prospecting in them.

Ron Baier exploring the badlands of southern Alberta. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

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