Jenna Plamondon was on her first day shift back on March 12, 2023, at the Syncrude Mildred Lake Mine, when something caught her eye.
Plamondon, a shovel operator, noticed what turned out to be the fossil remains of a plesiosaur tail.
“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,” says Plamondon.
“I called my leader and asked to have geology look and confirm. We made the decision to move the shovel just in case it was an actual fossil.”
Fossils of this marine reptile have been found previously in the region, but this discovery marks the oldest Cretaceous plesiosaur found in Alberta. The marine reptile lived approximately 115 million years ago when the mining area would have been part of a vast shallow sea that covered Northern Alberta.
The Mildred Lake Geology team arrived on-scene and reached out to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology to ensure the fossil could be identified and preserved as part of Alberta’s history.
After the area was fully examined, the team worked to prepare the fossil for travel to Dumheller to be put in a museum.
Plamondon says she’s excited to be apart of history.
“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 Syncrude sites took place in 1994, including the discovery of Alberta’s oldest dinosaur, a nodosaur, at Base Plant in 2011.