Deep Sea Mystery; Researchers Recover Old Mammoth Moth Off Miles Off Central Coast – CBS San Francisco

MONTEREY (CBS SF) – It was a discovery that raised a few eyebrows and even set the pulse of the deep-sea researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

During a deep ocean exploration dive 185 miles off the coast of Central California in 2019, the camera on their remote-controlled probe flashed at the image of what looked like an elephant’s tusk.

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Only able to collect a small piece at the time, the researchers returned in July to retrieve the complete specimen from the 10,000-foot-deep resting place and have now discovered that the slightly over 3-foot tusk is from a Colombian mammoth.


Randy Prickett (left) pilots ROV Doc Ricketts, while MBARI Senior Scientist Steven Haddock (right) documents the tusk before starting to pick up the surgery. Credit: Darrin Schultz © 2021 MBARI

The cold high-pressure environment has uniquely preserved the tusk, allowing researchers to study it in more detail with the hope of revealing the mystery of how it got there.

“One begins to ‘expect the unexpected’ when exploring the deep sea, but I’m still amazed that we came across the old tusk of a mammoth,” said MBARI researcher Steven Haddock.

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University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher, who specializes in the study of mammoths and mastodons, has joined the team in an effort to solve the mystery.

“This sample’s deep-sea conservation environment is different from almost everything we’ve seen elsewhere,” Fisher said. “Other mammoths have been retrieved from the sea, but generally not from depths of more than a few dozen meters.”

While dating the tusk is currently underway, the team believes it may be the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk found from this region of North America.

“If the tusk had been found on land, it would not be so straightforward to decipher its history,” said Associate Professor Terrence Blackburn at the UC Santa Cruz Geochronology Lab.

Researchers at the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab, led by Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, plan to sequence the ancient DNA from the sample, which could provide valuable insights into how mammoths colonized North America.

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“Examples like this provide a rare opportunity to paint a picture of both an animal that used to live and of the environment it lived in,” Shapiro said. “Mammoth remains from continental North America are particularly rare, and so we expect that DNA from this tusk will go a long way in refining what we know about mammoths in this part of the world.”

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