The tusk was found 185 miles off the coast of California about 10,000 feet (two miles) deep resting on the ocean floor. In July 2021, scientists were able to retrieve the three foot long tusk from the ocean floor. Now, they know what it is: the tusk of an extinct Columbian mammoth.
However, the question still stands: how did a mammoth tusk end up at the bottom of the ocean, 185 miles from shore?
The Mystery of the Mammoth Tusk
Despite being at the bottom of the sea for over a millenia, the tusk is perfectly preserved. Due to the cold, high pressure environment of the deep ocean, the tusk hasn’t had any damage or aging since it landed in the ocean.
This is important because it is the first time scientists have come across a mammoth tusk that is so well preserved while simultaneously being so far from shore and so deep. Other tusks have been found in the ocean, but only at depths of a few tens of meters.
How did the tusk get that far out?
This is the mystery scientists are grappling with, however, they do have a few hypotheses. Tsunamis, floods, or tides have swept other animal carcasses or fossils out to sea. This could be what happened with the mammoth’s tusk. Other remains were not found with the tusk.
DNA analysis has determined that the tusk was a Columbian mammoth. This is consistent with the closest mainland location of the tusk. Columbian mammoths roamed North America as far north as Alaska and as far south as Costa Rica. Scientists are still trying to narrow down the precise location that this specific mammoth may have lived.
The Impact of the Mammoth Tusk
The tusk is still undergoing more testing. Mineral crusts on the tusk could indicate how long the tusk has been on the ocean floor. Retracing historical ocean currents could then lead to the mammoth’s on-land origin.
The tusk will also be taken in for CT scans to help create 3D images that will help scientists study the internal and external structure of the tusk. They will also attempt to extract the mammoth’s DNA sequence and genome. All of this testing will begin to paint a picture of this specific mammoth.
The most important part of this testing, though, is that it will help shed light on the evolutionary process of mammoths and how they spread across North America.