Story at a glance

  • Researchers initially found the tusk during a 2019 ocean survey of an underwater mountain.
  • The tusk was retrieved earlier this year and confirmed to come from a Columbian mammoth.
  • The species went extinct some 11,500 years ago.

An ancient mammoth tusk has been retrieved from the deep ocean waters off the coast of central California that could be more than 100,000 years old. 

In 2019, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were exploring an underwater mountain around 10,000 feet deep and nearly 200 miles offshore with a remotely operated vehicle. 

The researchers saw what appeared to be an elephant tusk and managed to take a small piece of the tusk at the time, but returned this summer to recover the entire specimen. 

With the help of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Michigan who examined the find, scientists confirmed last week the tusk actually once belonged to a Columbian mammoth. 


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Researchers said the deep sea’s cold, high-pressure environment helped keep the ancient tusk, which measures more than 3 feet in length, intact.

“This specimen’s deep-sea preservational environment is different from almost anything we have seen elsewhere,” Daniel Fisher, paleontologist with the University of Michigan, said in a statement

“Other mammoths have been retrieved from the ocean, but generally not from depths of more than a few tens of meters,” Fisher said. 

Research is underway to extract more information from the tusk. Scientists are using CT scans of the tusk to determine the animal’s age and how it may have ended up deep offshore. 

The research team believes the discovery could be the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk recovered from this region of North America. Dating of the tusk is underway and it’s estimated to be more than 100,000 years old. 

“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 with the Monterey Institute, said. 

The Columbian mammoth roamed the Americas as far north as the Northern U.S. and as far south as Costa Rica. The species went extinct some 11,500 years ago. 


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Published on Nov 29, 2021