The spell of the Yukon
An insider’s account of the modern-day gold rush
- 4210 words
- 17 minutes
Plus: Colossal tree discovery in B.C., hope for Quebec’s musical frogs, what we can learn from ancient West Coast fish bones and Newfoundland’s Buddy Wasisname immortalized as ancient fossil!
“She’s perfect and she’s beautiful.”
Those were the words of the Yukon’s government paleontologist, Grant Zazula, who was called to the scene to verify what is being called the most important discovery in paleontology in North America. A baby wooly mammoth found frozen but whole in the Yukon’s gold fields.
The first discovery of its kind in North America and only the second in the world, the perfectly preserved juvenile mammoth was found by a miner on June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day, while working in Yukon Eureka Creek, south of Dawson City. The land where the discovery was made belongs to the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin, with the baby mammoth subsequently named Nun cho ga, which means “big baby animal” in the First Nation’s Hän language.
The only previous discovery of a whole baby mammoth took place in Siberia, Russia, in 2007. Nun cho ga is slightly larger than the Russian mammoth, measuring 140 cm long, and was probably around 30 to 35 days old when she died close to 40,000 years ago. According to Zazula, grass found in the baby mammoth’s intestine suggests she died after venturing away from her mother to eat and drink before getting stuck in the mud and quickly becoming submerged.
After being recovered from the mining site, Nun cho ga was blessed by Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin elders during a ceremony in a nearby location.
Castle-like stumps are almost all that remain of the ancient trees that once dominated North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley. But now, after hundreds of years, one tree has been found that continues to stand taller — actually, make that wider — than the rest: The North Shore Giant.
Discovered by Colin Spratt and Ian Thomas, two big-tree hunters from Vancouver, The North Shore Giant has been nicknamed for its location and massive size. Believed to be Canada’s fourth-widest tree, Spratt and Thomas measured the ancient western redcedar to be between 4.8 and 5.8 metres in diameter and over one thousand years old. Found amongst other ancient redcedars on the slopes west of Lynn Creek, the discovery of this tree stopped the hunters in their tracks after 10 hours of bushwhacking.
“Finding this colossal ancient tree just demonstrates the sublime grandeur of these old-growth temperate rainforests,” said Ancient Forest Alliance researcher and tree-hunter Thomas in a media release. This discovery is said to be one of the most remarkable big-tree finds of the century and is an example of the extraordinary might of British Columbia’s old-growth forests.
Quebec’s chorus frogs are in trouble. Since 1960, they’ve lost over 90 per cent of their wetland habitat due to urban development and city sprawl. If current development rates continue, chorus frogs may be extinct in the province in just over a decade. As well as contributing their voices to the environment’s soundscape, these little frogs play an important role in local ecosystems and are a source of food for other vulnerable species.
A conservation project based out of Montreal’s Biodome, the city’s largest natural science museum, is working to re-establish local populations by breeding them in captivity and integrating them back into the wild. In 2021, their team released hundreds of young chorus frogs into ponds in Mont-Saint-Bruno National Park, east of Montreal. Early signs are promising — the frogs survived their first winter in the park — but researchers will have to wait at least five years to determine whether the population has adapted to its new home. In the coming years, visitors to Mont-Saint Bruno will hopefully be able to catch the loud croaks of this tiny but integral species.
The study of 5,000-year-old fish bones on the West Coast is revealing how Indigenous people adapted to warming oceans, information that University of Victoria researchers say could be used to better manage fisheries today.
The fish skeletons, unearthed at the ancient villages of Ts’ishaa and Huu7ii in Barkley Sound off west Vancouver Island, provide clues as to the types and amounts of fish Indigenous people were catching. Researchers used this information to calculate how ocean temperatures shifted between 3000 BC and 1700 AD, according to University of Victoria anthropology professor and study co-author Iain McKechnie.
The calculations are reflected in a scale — the mean temperature of the catch (MTC) — that analyzes shifts in fisheries catches with changes in ocean temperature.
Specific fish are likely to be more abundant and caught more often in water temperatures they prefer.
Over the time span of the study, the MTC rose about .3 C to .7 C. And though the type of fish being caught by the ancestors of the Tse-shaht First Nation and Huu-ay-aht Nation remained similar over time, the proportion of each species caught changed. Salmon was the main fish caught, but warmer water species like sculpin, hake and dogfish increased.
The researchers hope that the study of this longer timeline of information will broaden understanding of the timelines and geographic scale of shifting ocean temperature baselines and how coastal people adapted. “By drawing on the past to better our knowledge of what human fisheries were, [we can make] it relevant to modern-day climate change research,” McKechnie said.
Two newly-discovered species of trilobite fossils will bear the names of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, the celebrated musical group from Newfoundland and Labrador.
The 460-million-year-old fossils were found near the town of Main Brook, on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, by a paleontologist from the University of Iowa. They were christened Oenonella wasisnamei and Oenenella otherfellersorum, respectively. Jonathan Adrain, the paleontologist who unearthed the fossils, is originally from Alberta and came across the music of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers while working summers in Newfoundland during the ‘90s.
Trilobites are early marine arthropods which thrived in ancient oceans for over 300 million years, but have been extinct for over 250 million. More than 20,000 different species of trilobites have been discovered globally. In Canada, their fossils have been found from western Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains, and from the 49th parallel north to the Arctic. Their closest living relative is the horseshoe crab.
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