For an Ottawa-based scientist, what started out as an inconvenience led to the discovery of a new mammal.
Back in 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature vertebrate paleontologist Natalia Rybczynski was leading a research team on Devon Island, Nunavut, when the group’s all-terrain vehicle ran out of gas.
That was when the group found the first fossil remains of an animal.
The team went on to uncover a partial skeleton of a pinniped, a group that includes seals, sea lions and walruses.
The animal, named Puijila darwini (Puijila means “young sea mammal” in Inuktitut and darwini pays homage to Charles Darwin), was a four-legged, semi-aquatic carnivore that measured 110 centimetres from nose to tail.
The 20-24 million-year-old fossil skeleton provides a glimpse into the earliest stages of land-to-sea transition. Puijila was found in a lake deposit that was formed in the impact crater. Fossil fish found there suggested the lake was freshwater.
The Puijila darwini skeleton is on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature from April 28 through May 10, and will travel to New York’s American Natural History Museum in mid-May.