Rock & Gem

Mammoths of the Deep


Scientists of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were engaged in a routine search for deep-sea creatures 150 miles off the central California coast. As their remotely operated submarine zipped along 10,000 feet beneath the surface, they realized they would need to augment their team of marine biologists with a paleontolo­gist well versed in land mammals of the Ice Ages. Staring up at them from sediments in the deep, dark waters were the tusks of an extinct mammoth!

In an initial attempt to retrieve it for closer examinatio­n, the team snagged only a tip of a tusk that snapped off. While it is common to find mammoth remains in shallow waters, this is the first time a mammoth has been found in such deep waters. Initial analysis of the tip, which still had DNA preserved in it, showed it to be a female. What other secrets might be locked away in that tusk?

To find out, the team gathered for a return voyage. Not only did they relocate the tusk, but they also attached soft plastic fingers lined with sponges to gingerly grasp and pry the entire tusk free from seafloor sediments. Further analysis of the tusk in a geochronol­ogy lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, suggests it is more than 100,000 years old. This is exciting because mammoth remains this old are rare.

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