Scientists thrilled by 'stunning' discovery of mammoth tusk at bottom of the ocean

The head and tusks of a mammoth.
The head and tusks of a mammoth. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

A mammoth tusk found in the deep sea off the central California coast will provide scientists with a "rare opportunity" to learn more about the animal and its habitat.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institution (MBARI) announced on Monday that during a 2019 expedition, researchers spotted what appeared to be an elephant's tusk. They were only able to take back a small piece of the specimen, and returned this July to collect the entire thing. It has now been confirmed that the tusk, which measures more than three feet in length, is from a Columbian mammoth. Normally, mammoth specimens are found on land, but because this one was in a cold, high-pressure environment, it's been preserved in a way that makes it easier for researchers to study.

"Other mammoths have been retrieved from the ocean, but generally not from depths of more than a few tens of meters," University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher said in a statement. MBARI researcher Steven Haddock said scientists "start to expect the unexpected when exploring the deep sea, but I'm still stunned that we came up on the ancient tusk of a mammoth," adding, "our work examining this exciting discovery is just beginning and we look forward to sharing more information in the future."

Researchers will sequence DNA from the specimen, which they believe is more than 100,000 years old. If that's the case, it would be the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk ever found in this region. "Specimens like this present a rare opportunity to paint a picture both of an animal that used to be alive and of the environment in which it lived," University of Santa Cruz Paleogenomics Lab researcher Beth Shapiro said. "Mammoth remains from continental North America are particularly rare, and so we expect the DNA from this tusk will go far to refine what we know about mammoths in this part of the world."

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