Canadian Museum of Nature

Canadian Museum of Nature

June 23, 2015 10:00 ET

Unique Fossil Fish Collection From Canada's Arctic Lands at Canadian Museum of Nature

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 23, 2015) - The Canadian Museum of Nature has received an amazing group of fish fossils discovered in Canada's High Arctic, including one named Tiktaalik that dramatically advanced knowledge about the evolution of finned to limbed animals. The fossils have been brought home to Canada by the American scientists that studied them, and will now be officially housed at the museum on behalf of the Government of Nunavut.

The star of the group is the fossil of Tiktaalik roseae, a lobe-finned fish about 375 million years old. It was discovered in 2004 on southern Ellesmere Island by American researchers Edward (Ted) Daeschler, Neil Shubin and Farish Jenkins. Their subsequent studies garnered worldwide headlines for what the fossil reveals about the early evolution of vertebrates, when the first fish ventured onto land.

Daeschler and Shubin returned the fossils to Canada this week after a decade spent meticulously preparing and studying them in their laboratories at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University (Philadephia), and at the University of Chicago.

"The Canadian Museum of Nature is grateful to accept these fossils for future scientific research, where they will be curated as part of the Nunavut collections," says Dr. Mark Graham, the museum's Vice-President of Research and Collections. "Our museum manages some of the best collections of Arctic specimens in the world, which are backed by more than 100 years of Arctic research and exploration. So Tiktaalik and these other fossils are a valuable addition to this knowledge." The specimens are stored at the museum's Natural Heritage Campus in Gatineau, Quebec.

Tiktaalik's significance was announced to the world in the scientific journal Nature in 2006. Tiktaalik roseae represents what scientists term a transitional fossil-in this case, one that shows anatomical features of both primitive lobe-finned fish and the first tetrapods (four-limbed creatures). Tiktaalik has a flat head and a neck like tetrapods, but has fins, scales and gills like fish. The name was suggested by Inuit Elders in Nunavut, and is an Inuktitut term for burbot (a type of fish). Tiktaalik even has its own Twitter handle (@Tiktaalikroseae).

The suite of fossils returned by Daeschler and Shubin includes about 60 specimens of Tiktaalik roseae, with three or four that show the skull, shoulders, and fins. In addition, there are 120 or so pieces of two other type specimens of lobe-finned fossil fish, all from the Late Devonian Period. One is named after Ashton Embry, the Geological Survey of Canada scientist who mapped the geological formations that led Daeschler and Shubin to the Tiktaalik fossil site. The other is named in memory of Martin Bergmann, the late director of Natural Resource Canada's Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP). The PCSP provided the critical logistical support for the expeditions that led to the discovery of the fossils.

"This all started with expeditions to Canada's Arctic, which could not have happened without the support of the Polar Continental Shelf Program, the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit community," explains Dr. Daeschler. "Now that our primary research is completed, the return of these fossils to Canada and their access at the Canadian Museum of Nature makes new discoveries possible by other scientists with questions about the evolution of life."

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 10.5 million specimen collection, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, www.nature.ca. The museum has an agreement with the Government of Nunavut to curate fossils and archeological artefacts found in the Territory.

Contact Information

  • Information for media, including photos:
    Dan Smythe
    Media Relations
    Canadian Museum of Nature
    613-566-4781 / 613-698-9253 (cell)
    dsmythe@mus-nature.ca

    Laura Sutin
    Media Relations
    Canadian Museum of Nature
    613-566-4793 / 613-698-7142 (cell)
    lsutin@mus-nature.ca