August 1, 2013

Ediacaran Fossils at Mistaken Point, Newfoundland

Plan ahead if you want to see these 500-million-year old fossils!

Access to the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is limited to guided tours, which are free and very informative, but can fill up. Call at least a few days ahead. We only had one full day in Newfoundland and the tour was fully booked that day. Fortunately, someone cancelled.
MistakenPointFossils.jpg HumpbackWhaleBackCloseup.jpg

The tour starts at the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Center and is led by Julie Cappleman. The center has a huge cast of some of the fossils and is hoping to display more, if they get World Heritage Site status. The "fossils" are impressions left by soft-bodied species, rather than mineralized bones or shells, so the cast is an impression of an impression. But it's an excellent copy. You can see even more detail in the cast than on the field tour, although I enjoyed seeing the fossils in situ. The cast was made by Research Casting International, run by Peter May. His son, Alex May, who spent a year in my lab working on rhizobia, first told me about Mistaken Point.
The tour was great! Between driving to the trail head, a pleasant and interesting 2-km hike to the coast, viewing the fossils and return, we were there from 1 PM to a bit after 4. You can't get close enough to touch most of the fossils, but Julie lent us binoculars for a good close-up view, while her assistant pointed out some of the more interesting fossils. We did get one closeup view of fossils near the trail. There was a lot of morphological diversity in these early representatives of multicellular life.

The previous day, we went on the Gatherall's boat tour and saw humpback whales and puffins. We stayed at Elaine's Bed and Breakfast and got a good look at a minke whale in the bay, while we were eating breakfast. But I'll let a humpback have the last word.