Mammoth tusk discovered off California coast, nearly 2 miles underwater

MONTEREY, Calif. — An immaculately preserved three-foot mammoth tusk found in the frigid depths of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast could be more than 100,000 years old, researchers confirmed Monday.

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The find first discovered two years ago by pilot Randy Prickett and scientist Steven Haddock from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, was originally mistaken for an elephant tusk, but closer examination revealed it belongs to a Columbian mammoth, USA Today reported.

The two-man team only collected a sample at the time, but returned this year to retrieve the entire tusk, located about 10,000 feet deep and 185 miles offshore, KTVU reported.

“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,” Haddock, senior scientist with the Monterey Institute, told the TV station.

Since extracting the fossil, Haddock and researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Genomics Institute, as well as its earth and planetary sciences department, joined forces with the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan to examine the find and believe it could be the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk recovered from this North American region, KTVU reported.

“This specimen’s deep-sea preservational environment is different from almost anything we have seen elsewhere,” University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher, who specializes in the study of mammoths and mastodons, told the TV station. “Other mammoths have been retrieved from the ocean, but generally not from depths of more than a few tens of meters.”

According to the National Park Service, mammoths arrived on what is now North America around one million years ago and evolved into the Columbian mammoth, which stood over 14 feet tall and weighed around 20,000 pounds, USA Today reported.

Columbian mammoths, which were relatively hairless compared with the better-known wooly mammoths, went extinct at least 10,000 years ago, were among the largest mammoths on the planet, and their tusks typically measured as long as 16 feet, the newspaper reported.

“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,” Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, told USA Today.

“Mammoth remains from continental North America are particularly rare, and so we expect that DNA from this tusk will go far to refine what we know about mammoths in this part of the world,” she added.