Mammoth Tusk Found on Ocean Floor Offers Clues About Ancient Creatures

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To the untrained eye, it may have looked like a giant wood log. In reality, scientists had spotted something unusual off the California coast two years ago: a 3-foot-long mammoth tusk.

A research team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered the tusk in 2019 while exploring an underwater mountain roughly 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Though other mammoth fossils had been plucked from the ocean before, it’s rare for such objects to nestle along the deep seafloor, Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, said in a press release.

Scientists ultimately determined that the tusk belonged to a young female Columbian mammoth, possibly one that lived during the Lower Paleolithic era, which spanned 2.7 million to 200,000 years ago. Researchers are still working to determine the creature’s precise age, along with more details about its life — including its diet and how often it reproduced.

“This is an ‘Indiana Jones’ mixed with ‘Jurassic Park’ moment,” Katie Moon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told The New York Times.

The discovery could ultimately signal the presence of other ancient animal fossils hidden in the deep sea.

Monterey Bay scientists hadn’t intended to encounter a mammoth tusk in 2019. At the time, the research team was roving the ocean with remotely operated vehicles in search of deep-sea species.

“You start to ‘expect the unexpected’ when exploring the deep sea, but I’m still stunned that we came upon the ancient tusk of a mammoth,” Steven Haddock, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, said in the press release.

On a hunch, the scientists decided to retrieve the tusk from the ocean floor, but the tip broke off and they weren’t able to collect the full specimen. The team later revisited the site in July to grab the rest of the artifact. This time, they attached soft materials like sponges to the remotely operated vehicle then gingerly lifted the tusk using the vehicle’s robotic arms.

The full tusk gave scientists a much larger sample of mammoth DNA, which they used to determine its species.

Scientists believe the Columbian mammoth was one of the largest creatures of its kind — likely the result of crossbreeding between a woolly mammoth and another mammoth species. It probably used its tusks to protect itself and forage for food when it roamed North America up to 10,000 years ago….”

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