Two divers recently uncovered a pair of Columbian mammoth tusks off of Venice, Florida.
Blair Morrow and Ryan Picou, both mates with Aquanutz Scuba Diving Charters, made the discoveries while diving in the Gulf of Mexico. Morrow was the first to find a tusk, which Picou helped her recover.
“I have been working on fossil charters in Venice off and on since 2010 and finding a tusk is something I just never imagined,” Morrow tells Scuba Diving. “The tusk I found was almost completely covered with only an inch or two of the end sticking out. As I started uncovering it and realized what it, I was in shock – it just kept getting bigger! I’d heard of chunks of tusk being recovered in the area, but never a specimen that was so well preserved.”
Blair Morrow, divemaster and mate, poses with the mammoth tusk she discovered off the coast of Venice, Florida.
While the tusk was in one piece on the ocean floor, Morrow says the 8-foot specimen was not stable enough to raise intact. Pico and another diver helped Morrow lift the tusk to the surface.
Picou discovered a 4.5-foot tusk just a week later, which was already severed near the center.
“My first thought was I better calm down and manage my air because I was down to the last bit of my tank and needed to at least get a marker up, so I could come back and dig it out,” Picou tells a local NBC News station.
Based on what the team learned extracting Morrow’s discovery the week before, Picou made a sling out of a canvas tarp, used zip ties to keep the remainder of the tusk intact, and inflated lift bags to raise it off the seafloor.
Ryan Picou holds his tusk after reaching to dock.
Upon getting the fossil home, Picou started the preservation process: soaking the tusk in freshwater baths, letting it dry out for up to a month, using a bonding agent to solidify the fossil and fill any existing holes, and finally epoxying the two tusk pieces together for display.
Picou and Morrow are both Florida natives. Morrow got scuba certified when she was in high school and has intermittently hunted for fossils underwater since 2009. Pico, diving since August 2019, has taken an interest in fossil hunting since childhood.
“The tusks are the coolest things I’ve found so far,” Picou said. “I’ve also found a mammoth tooth in the jaw about a month ago, and a 5.7-inch Megalodon tooth just two days ago.”