Why was this ancient tusk 240 kilometers from the coast and 3000 meters deep?

Long ago, a young female mammoth wandered near what became California’s central coast, when her life came to an untimely end.

Although he died on land, his gigantic body reached the Pacific Ocean.

Carried away by currents, their remains drifted more than 150 miles from shore before settling 3,000 meters below the surface of the water on the side of a seamount.

There it remained for millennia, without anyone knowing of its existence.

MBARI lead scientist Steven Haddock points out the internal structure of the tusk on a Western Flyer display.  Photo Darrin Schultz / MBARI

MBARI lead scientist Steven Haddock points out the internal structure of the tusk on a Western Flyer display. Photo Darrin Schultz / MBARI

However, that all changed in 2019 when scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) found one of its tusks when using remotely operated vehicles to search for new deep-sea species in front of it. to the coast of Monterey, California.

“We were sailing and when I looked down I saw it and said:

The Doc Ricketts remote control vehicle suspended over the "lunar pool" on the Western Flyer research vessel Photo odd Walsh / MBARI-

The Doc Ricketts drone hovering over the “moon pool” on the Western Flyer research ship.Photo odd Walsh / MBARI-

‘That’s a fang,’ ”said Randy Prickett, an experienced remotely operated submersible vehicle (ROV) pilot at the institute.

Not everyone believed him at first, but Prickett managed to convince his colleagues to come closer to see the tusk.

“I told them, ‘If we don’t take it right now, they’re going to regret it.’

The team tried to pick up the mysterious object.

To his anguish, the tip of the scimitar-shaped specimen snapped off.

They picked up the piece and left the rest.

It wasn’t until scientists inspected the fragment that they were sure that what they had found was indeed a tusk, but it was still unknown to what species and period it belonged.

The discovery of such a specimen in deep water is unusual.

The tusks and other skeletal remains of prehistoric creatures are often found deep underground or contained in permafrost near the Arctic Circle.

Although some specimens have been found in shallow waters of the North Sea, in Western Europe, the remains of a mammoth, or any other ancient mammal, have never been found in waters so deep.

Steven HD Haddock, a marine biologist at the institute, who led the 2019 study, often focuses his work on the bioluminescence and the ecology of deep gelatinous organisms; however, he could not resist the allure of this scientific enigma.

So he brought together a team of scientists from the institute, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the University of Michigan to solve the mystery.

Preliminary investigations by Haddock’s colleagues raised the possibility that it was not just any mammoth, but one that died during the Lower Paleolithic, an era that lasted between 2.7 million and 200,000 years ago and of which there are few well preserved specimens.

A more detailed study of this specimen could help answer long-standing questions about the evolution of mammoths in North America.

The discovery also suggests that the ocean floor could be covered in paleontological treasures that will add to our knowledge of the deep past, but before the team could make a real breakthrough in science, it had to go back to the sea to collect the other part of it. canine.

On July 27, I boarded the Western Flyer, MBARI’s largest research vessel, along with other members of the crew.

On the trip were Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, who studies mammoths and mastodons, and Katherine Louise Moon, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies the DNA of ancient animals.

Before the excursion, Moon was able to extract enough DNA from the broken tip to determine that the tusk came from a female mammoth.

His conclusion was seconded by Fisher, who said that the shape and size of the tusk were characteristic of a young female mammoth. Terrence Blackburn, another Santa Cruz researcher, was unable to join the trip, but his preliminary work also provided an estimate of how many years had passed since the mammoth’s death.

Back on the ship, it took us two days to reach the seamount where the tusk was, as Haddock and his colleagues stopped at various points along the way to collect rare and unrecorded species of jellyfish and ctenophores, invertebrates that also they are known as comb jellyfish.

On the morning of July 29, the sun was barely peeking over the horizon when the ship finally reached its goal.

Haddock and his team wasted no time initiating the search and found themselves in the ship’s control room while the rest of the crew were still eating breakfast.

An atmosphere of excitement filled the dark room as scientists watched on screens as the ROV, named Doc Ricketts after the famous marine biologist who had a great influence on John Steinbeck, slowly descended into the depths.

By the time the water drone reached its destination, the side of a 3,000-meter-deep seamount, the room was packed with scientists, engineers, and members of the ship’s crew, all eager to witness the rediscovery of the tusk.

Most of the sloping seamount below the ROV was covered in a black crust of iron and manganese.

At first, this made it difficult to locate the tusk, however, after less than 15 minutes of searching, the quarry suddenly appeared on one of the screens.

“It’s exactly the way we left it,” Haddock said.

Today, extracting and analyzing DNA from ancient animals like this mammoth “is pretty routine for us, which is really cool,” Moon said that day on the ship.

Recent advances in ancient DNA have allowed genetic studies of animals up to a million years old.

After Moon collected his samples, he gave the tusk to Fisher for analysis to reveal the age of the mammoth when it died and the conditions it lived in.

As of November, neither of the two researchers had completed their analyzes, but their initial results seem promising.

The tusk, about a meter long, was covered in a thick crust of iron and manganese.

Deep waters are rich in these metals, and in some places a crust of iron and manganese forms around any object that remains in one place long enough, that is, at least a few thousand years.

The thickness of the bark suggested that the tusk was ancient, but to determine its exact age, Blackburn, whose laboratory in Santa Cruz specializes in geochronology, studied the decomposition of radioactive materials in samples from the original tusk tip recovered in 2019.

He estimated that the tusk had been sitting on the seafloor for much more than 100,000 years, although these finds have yet to be peer-reviewed and are not definitive.

“It’s a treasure,” said Dick Mol, a paleontologist at the Historyland museum in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the recovery or analysis of the tusk.

Mammoth tusks older than 100,000 years are “extremely rare,” Mol added, and studying one of them could give scientists new insights into the Lower Paleolithic, a little-known era in Earth’s history.

Regardless of how much DNA scientists manage to extract from this tusk, a lot can be learned by studying its tissue.

Elephants, mammoths, and other proboscideans store vast amounts of information in their tusks.

They grow layer by layer, creating a structure that resembles a pile of ice cream cones.

Like tree rings, the size and shape of these layers can reveal to scientists a great deal about the animal’s life history with almost daily resolution, including, in the case of females, the frequency with which it occurs. who begot offspring. In addition, each microscopic layer contains isotopes that reflect what the animal was feeding on.

These isotopes can be traced to specific locations, allowing scientists to know not just what the animal ate, but where.

Regardless of what scientists learn from this mammoth tusk, it is unlikely that they are the only remains of an ancient land animal preserved in the ocean.

“There are probably many more out there,” said Mol, who has helped uncover the remains of numerous mammoths in the shallow waters of the North Sea.

He recommended that deep-sea explorers “start traveling accompanied by paleontologists in their explorations of the seabed, because they know what to look for.”

Haddock learned another lesson from the discovery: The deep sea needs to be protected from mining and drilling.

“In this unique, little-explored and largely undervalued environment, having an undisturbed habitat is invaluable,” concluded Haddock.

c.2021 The New York Times Company

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Tammy Sewell is our Writer and Social at Tammy loves sports, she writes our celebrities news. She spends time browsing through several celebs news sources as well the Instagram. Email: Phone: +1 513-209-1700

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