"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," says Steven Haddock, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
Haddock and underwater robot pilot Randy Pickett spotted the strange specimen on the vehicle's camera 10,000 feet down at the bottom of the ocean around 185 miles off the coast of California. They grabbed a tiny sample back in 2019 and returned a few months ago to collect the complete tusk. Early testing estimates that the tusk is more than 100,000 years old. From MBARI:
The researchers have confirmed that the tusk—about one meter (just over three feet) in length—is from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). The cold, high-pressure environment of the deep sea uniquely preserved the tusk, giving researchers the opportunity to study it in greater detail. Computed tomography (CT) scans will reveal the full three-dimensional internal structure of the tusk and more information about the animal's history, such as its age.
The ocean represents 99 percent of the space where life can exist on this planet and yet we still know very little about it. As interest in exploiting the deep sea by mining for valuable metals has grown—with the potential to place many marine animals in harm's way—this surprising discovery, hidden on the seafloor for eons, serves as a fragile reminder of the many remaining mysteries worthy of our protection.