Manitoba fish fossils

you're gonna need a bigger boat

My husband and I love to fish. The bigger the better! We've caught some really big fish here in Manitoba, big enough that our fishing friends in Nova Scotia are left quite jealous. World Fishing Network is on quite often in our household and we also love the television show River Monsters where biologist Jeremy Wade searches for human eating fish monsters. Throw in the fact that we are yearly Shark Week viewers, and that we have even gone half-jokingly searching for "Manipogo", the legendary Manitoba version of the Loch Ness Monster, I guess we could be labeled as "fishing and marine animal enthusiasts". That is why when I saw a contest by Travel Manitoba and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden to name an 80 million year old, 18 foot , Xiphactinus fish fossil, I had this funny feeling that if I put a little effort into the naming process that I might just win.

I had heard about the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre before, heck it even made my Manitoba Bucket List blog post, but I still hadn’t found the time to go check it out. Basically the deal is the Morden area of Manitoba is a hot bed for marine fossils and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre is home to the largest collection of marine vertebrate fossils in Canada. That’s a big deal people! Millions of years ago Manitoba wasn't made up of prairie and fields. It was in the middle of a saltwater ocean called The Western Interior Seaway and various marine animals lived there. Basically similar to dinosaurs, but instead of living on land they lived in the sea. We're talking turtles, sharks, birds, squid, lizards, fish, etc. Some of them were huge, such as Bruce, a Tylosaurus Pembinensis, his fossil was found in the Morden area in 1974 and  is on display, the largest Mosasaur in Canada at 43 feet long.

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre consists of a nice museum with lots of displays and fossils, as well as many active fossil digging sites surrounding the area of Morden. Visitors can tour the museum and also sign up to join the fossil crew and go help dig up and discover fossils in the area. A couple of years ago the fossil crew discovered a 18 foot Xiphactinus - a fossil fish that kind of resembles a bulldog in the face - and they decided to name him. That's where my part of the story picks up. A contest to name this 80 million year old fossil was devised and I entered the contest. I’m a bit of a geek, so for a couple days I mulled over possible name suggestions. One day, while folding clothes, it suddenly dawned on me. His name should be reflective of the location where he was discovered, and somehow pay tribute to the fact he is a Manitoban fish fossil. That's when I hit up trusty Mapquest and Wikipedia to do some research and discovered that the area surrounding Morden is called the Rural Municipality of Stanley. Stanley sounded like a fine name for a large 80 million year old fish. Turns out the folks at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre agreed with me, and I was crowned the winner of the contest. I was ecstatic! I mean how many people get the full bragging rights of saying I am responsible for naming an 80 million year old, 18 foot fish fossil and also be awarded a Master Angler of Extinction Certificate! Now that my friend, is a helluva fish tale, and will certainly be shared on my many fishing trips for years to come.

Last week, with my also ecstatic husband in tow, I headed on down to Morden to claim my prize and cross something off our Manitoba bucket list - a full day fossil dig adventure. Our day started out with a tour of the museum with our fossil crew member Chelsey. She led us around the museum explaining all the fossils, answering questions, and giving us a behind the scenes tour of the lab where they clean and categorize the fossils. We both found this very interesting and it heightened our sense of adventure and we were eager to start digging. After a quick lunch, the three of us headed out to "the ditch", which is an active dig site and the location where Stanley was discovered.

Now at a first glance the dig site doesn't really look like much. Just some dirt and a few tools, but once you get down on your hands and knees and start looking at the ground you start to see all the fossils. We could easily pick out vertebrates and ribs that were half exposed from previous dig days. Chelsey showed us a few techniques and shortly thereafter we were off digging for new fossils. We found a few fish teeth and started seeing ribs poking out of the soil. It was fun and exciting but was just a taste of what was to come.

Now to set the stage for what is about to happen on our fossil dig you need a little back story on my husband. My husband talks about sharks. All. The. Time. When we go to all inclusive resorts down south he tells me to watch out for sharks and gives various statistics and information about what to do if a shark attacks. When we are near the ocean in Nova Scotia he asks me trivia questions and quotes data about sharks found off the coast of Atlantic Canada. When we were in Las Vegas a couple years ago he insisted on visiting The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Resort and spent a long time just watching the sharks swim. He sometimes watches Youtube videos about sharks and he PVRs Shark Week, and just one week prior to our fossil dig he joked with his co-workers, boastly claiming that he was going to discover a shark tooth. By golly, my husband actually discovered a shark tooth! Shortly after we began digging he looks up from the dirt and says to Chelsey and I "I think this is a shark tooth". We didn’t believe him. At first. He cleans it off and sure enough it looks just like a shark tooth. We learned that it is a a damn good Squalicorax shark tooth and will now become part of the fossil collection at the museum. So cool! These sharks had serrated teeth and are approximately 16 feet long, and are similar to a modern day tiger shark. What a find! Our own personal Shark Week right here in Manitoba, and another helluva fish tale to share with our friends on future fishing trips.

As the afternoon of fossil digging came to an end, we dusted off and bid farewell to Chelsey and the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. We were both very pleased. We had a great time, we both label it as a must see and do Manitoba adventure and highly recommend the experience. We found it interesting, fun, and a really great hands on approach to discovering some of the history of the Province of Manitoba. Even if you don't get to name a fossil, or discover a shark tooth, I am positive you too will have an amazing and unique Manitoba adventure.

Thank you Travel Manitoba and Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre for a great contest and for choosing me as the winner!

For more information on the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre please visit

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