Clam Thought to Be Extinct for 30,000 Years Found Alive in California

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Southlandp

A bystander recently stumbled upon a species of clam previously only known from fossils dating back 28,000 years. They found the centuries-old clam alive off the coast of California. 

According to ScienceAlert, they found the tiny, translucent bivalve mollusk living near the Santa Barbara coast. Later, it was determined to be Cymatioa cooki. 

In 1937, a local woman named Edna Cook discovered the fossil. The fossils came from an archaeological site dating to 28,000 and 36,000 years ago. 

“It’s not all that common to find alive a species first known from the fossil record, especially in a region as well-studied as Southern California,” said Jeff Goddard, research associate at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute and the co-author of the study that describes the discovery.

According to Goddard, in November of 2018, he was looking for invertebrates to examine when he found a tiny speck of about ten millimeters in length that caught his attention. At first, the abnormal “wave” of the outer shell caught his attention as it was something he had never seen before. 

He then sent pictures to Paul Valentich-Scott, a curator of mollusks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. 

Afterward, Valentich-Scott looked over the scientific literature going back to 1758. He later realized that the creature matched the fossilized species recorded by Cook in 1937.

Considering the area is so well-documented by scientists, it’s impressive that the micro-mollusk went so long without being discovered. Goddard also described the area as having a “long history of shell-collecting and malacology,” and that there are even “folks interested in the harder to find micro-mollusks.” 

Wild clam discovery potentially attributed to heatwaves in the area

As a result, he finds it hard to believe that it took so long to discover the clam. Goddard theorizes that the mysterious appearance could be attributed to the heat waves from 2014 to 2016. At the time, the heatwaves caused bizarre currents that most likely carried the mollusks to the area while they were plankton-sized larvae. If this theory is true, the clams may take up to two years to develop.

This isn’t the first time someone has found sea creatures that scientists previously thought were extinct. For instance, an ancient, deep-sea mollusk known as Monoplacophoran was formerly considered extinct for millions of years until it was discovered in 1952. 

In addition, another noteworthy discovery was the Coelacanth. It was a fish with an average weight of 200 pounds and a length of nearly seven feet. Experts also thought it was a 65 million-year-old species.

However, the most bizarre discovery might have been the Goblin Shark. Scientists believe this deep-sea shark was around for 125 million years. 

In addition, a big difference between those findings and the discovery of Cymatioa cooki, is that these marine animals typically live in hard-to-find places, like the bottom of the ocean. However, Cymatioa cooki was found off the scoured-over coast of Santa Barbara, California.