Known to roam the planet for millions of years, mammoth fossils have been found across the world, not just on earth, but in places like rivers and lakes.
Yet scientists have always been blown away to find a mammoth tusk sitting thousands of feet deep in the ocean.
In 2019, pilot Randy Prickett and scientist Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were exploring the ocean floor about 10,000 feet deep and 185 miles off the coast of California when they spotted what appeared to be an elephant tusk.
The two were only able to take a small chunk of the defense and, in July of this year, eventually returned to the site to reclaim the entire defense.
Prickett and Haddock announced Monday that with the help of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Michigan, they determined that the tusk actually belonged to a Colombian mammoth.
“You start to ‘expect the unexpected’ when exploring the seabed, but I’m still amazed that we’ve come across a mammoth’s ancient tusk,” Haddock said in a statement.
Mammoths arrived in what is now North America about a million years ago and evolved into the Colombian mammoth, which stood over 14 feet tall and weighed around 20,000 pounds, according to the National Park Service.
A major difference between the woolly mammoth and the Colombian mammoth was that the latter did not have a lot of hair because North America was relatively warmer than the rest of the world. Colombian mammoths were not only one of the largest mammoths on the planet, but they also had one of the largest tusks, typically as long as 16 feet. The species became extinct at least 10,000 years ago.
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Researchers said the discovered tusk, which measured about three feet, was most likely preserved due to the ancient high-pressure environment of the deep water, but University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher said the discovery was unlike anything seen before.
“Other mammoths have been recovered from the ocean, but usually not at depths of more than a few tens of meters,” Fisher said.
The team of researchers believe the tusk is the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk ever found in North America, as early tests show it to be at least 100,000 years old.
The team plans to do more research, including studying how long it has been since the tusk has arrived in the depths of the ocean, as well as examining ocean currents to see where the tusk may have come from. The team also hopes that further analysis will help better understand the evolution of mammoths and what life was like in North America.
“Specimens like this provide a rare opportunity to paint a picture of both an animal that was alive and the environment it lived in,” said Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. “Mammoth remains from mainland North America are particularly rare, so we expect DNA from this tusk to go far in refining what we know about mammoths in this part of the world.”
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