Fishing in Permian seas – a fossil fish donation from Blackwater, Queensland

Our Palaeontology section has just received a very welcome Cultural Gifts Program donation of fossil fish from Blackwater, Queensland.

These 29 red shale slabs are from the Late Permian (250 million years), Rangal Coal Measure strata of Blackwater, eastern central Queensland. They often have several fishes per slab, and the preserved detail is amazing.

There are several freshwater fish species represented, including the ray-finned fish Ebenaqua ritchiei, named by Campbell and Duy Phuoc in 1983, after then Curator of Palaeontology at the Australian Museum, Dr Alex Ritchie. There are also some new and undescribed species. Those who have a knowledge of Latin will know that Ebenaqua actually translates as ‘blackwater’, which is very appropriate.

Alex Ritchie collected from the red baked shales at the site soon after the fossils were discovered in 1969. The baking was caused by an ancient coal seam fire. Robert Jones (later Palaeontology Collection Manager) collected from the unbaked grey shales in 1977. The fossil fish are in a very good state of preservation, with much fine detail preserved. The Australian Museum Palaeontology Collection has the holotype specimen of Ebenaqua ritchiei in unbaked grey shale, registered as F.58674.

The donor of the fossil fish collection, Dr. Michael Leu, a Palaeontologist, collected all the specimens during 1984-1987 near an open-cut mine on a coal-mining lease owned by Utah Development Corporation, and published two papers on Blackwater fossil sharks. Other researchers have also published on fossils from this locality, which is very well documented. This is a considerable advantage and adds enormously to the scientific importance of the fossils. Dr. Leu had previously donated some specimens of Blackwater fish (split halves), and this recent donation contains the other split halves of some, which will be reunited as part/counterpart pairs. The collection has very considerable scientific importance and research potential.

Ross Pogson, Collection Manager, Geosciences

Ebenaqua ritchiei from Blackwater, Queensland
Photographer: George Smith © George Smith