Known for roaming the planet for million of years, mammoth fossils have been found across the world not just on land, but in places like rivers and lakes.
Yet, scientists were still blown away to find a mammoth tusk sitting thousands of feet deep in the ocean.
In 2019, pilot Randy Prickett and scientist Steven Haddock from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were exploring the ocean floor around 10,000 feet deep and 185 miles off the coast of California when they spotted what looked to be an elephant tusk.
The two were only able to take a small piece of the tusk, and in July this year, finally returned to the site of it to retrieve the entire tusk.
Prickett and Haddock announced on Monday that with the help of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Michigan, they had determined the tusk actually had belonged to a Columbian mammoth.
"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 said in a statement.
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, according to the National Park Service.
A major difference between the woolly mammoth and the Columbian mammoth was the latter did not have much hair because North America was relatively warmer than the rest of the world. Columbian mammoths were not only one of the largest mammoths on the planet, but they also had one of the biggest tusks, usually as long as 16 feet. The species went extinct at least 10,000 years ago.
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Researchers said the discovered tusk, which was around three feet, was most likely preserved due to the old, high-pressure environment of the deep sea, but University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher said the discovery is unlike anything seen before.
"Other mammoths have been retrieved from the ocean, but generally not from depths of more than a few tens of meters," Fisher said.
The team of researchers believe the tusk is the oldest well-preserved mammoth tusk ever discovered in North America, as initial test of it show it's at least 100,000 years old.
The team plans to do more research, including investigating how long ago the tusk arrived in the deep ocean, as well as looking back at ocean currents to see where the tusk may have originally come from. The team also hopes additional analysis will provide a greater understanding on the evolution of mammoths and what life was like in North America.
"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," said Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. "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."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ancient mammoth tusk discovered in deep ocean off California coast