Rare Nautilus Spotted for First Time in Over Thirty Years

Posted on August 26, 2015

Allonautilus scrobiculatus

A rare nautilus has been spotted for the first time in over thirty years. The rare nautilus, Allonautilus scrobiculatus, was spotted in the South Pacific by biologist and University of Washington professor Peter Ward.

The nautilus was originally discovered off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea by Ward and a colleague. The creatures are considered a "living fossil" because their distinctive shells appear in the fossil record for 500 million years.

Ward says in a statement, "Before this, two humans had seen Allonautilus scrobiculatus. My colleague Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College found Allonautilus first, and I saw them a few weeks later."

Allonautilus is different from other nautiluses because it has a slimy covering on its shell. Ward says, "It has this thick, hairy, slimy covering on its shell. When we first saw that, we were astounded."

Ward and his team of researchers used "bait on stick" systems with fish and chicken meat suspended on a pole between 500 and 1300 feet below to surface to lure in the nautiluses. Two of the creatures approached the pole during one night's recorded footage and fought over the bait. Most nautiluses do not like the heat so the researchers brought them to the surface in chilled water. After obtaining samples they released the rare nautiluses back at the capture site.

Ward says illegal fishing and mining operations for nautilus shells have decimated nautilus populations. He says, "Once they're gone from an area, they’re gone for good."

Photo: Peter Ward