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How did a mammoth tusk from well over 100,000 years ago end up deep in the ocean?


At 3070 meters/10,000 feet? The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute was exploring the deep waters off the coast of central Calfornia in 2019 and they noticed something strange, an apparent elephant tusk. Having secured a tiny fragment, they went back to retrieve the whole thing in July of this year:

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.

“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,” said Haddock. “We are grateful to have a multidisciplinary team analyzing this remarkable specimen, including a geochronologist, oceanographers, and paleogenomicists from UCSC; and paleontologists at the University of Michigan. Our work examining this exciting discovery is just beginning and we look forward to sharing more information in the future.”

News, “Researchers recover ancient mammoth tusk during deep-sea expedition” at MBARI (November 22, 2021)

The friend who sent us this story has some questions:

How did it get there? Possibly, he thinks, during the Ice Age, it floated out there on an iceberg. Another possibility is: It died in or near the water, bloated up, and then floated until it sank.

But now here’s the kicker: Whatever happened, the find shows that a fully terrestrial mammal can get buried in ocean sediment. So, he asks, what about some of the papers that show apparent transitional terrestrial whale fossils that are buried in deeper sea conditions? How do we know that some of these fossils had anything to do with the ocean?

No doubt the ocean holds more secrets.

Yeah, nice one, ET! -Q Querius
That's actually pretty clever, ET. My hat's off to you... chuckdarwin
So chuckdarwin thinks that Charles Darwin put the mammoth tusks in the ocean.... ET
Surely this is the work of the Great Deceiver….. chuckdarwin
P.S. The Cordilleran ice sheet on the west coast of North America extended south only to about Seattle, Washington, a distance of about 900 miles north of Monterey, California, off the coast of which the mammoth tusk was located. -Q Querius
The specified depth of 10,000 feet occurs about 15 miles off the Monterey coast, so a better theory is that a playful sea lion must then have picked up the mammoth tusk from the alluvium at the river's mouth where it must have carried it farther out to sea when it may have been scared by a killer whale who then must have carried it even farther out before dropping it, and the natural ocean currents must have then removed grains of sand faster from one side of the mammoth tusk than the other side, rolling the mammoth tusk to where it was discovered. Another theory that's gaining momentum is that early humans must have been transporting the mammoth tusk in a fishing vessel for use in building their mammoth tusk shelter when they got lost and a large ocean wave must have capsized the boat, dropping the mammoth tusk in the ocean at that point. Isn't modern science wonderful? It can explain anything you want! -Q Querius
Rivers flowing west off the mountains have huge floods often, carrying trees and animals out into the ocean with considerable force. polistra

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