Q & A - Gregory Barord PhD (Save the Nautilus)
Tell us a little about your project Save The Nautilus (Savethenautilus.com) and how it began.
Save the Nautilus was started by two 11-year old kids, Josiah Utsch and Ridgely Kelly almost 10 years ago now. They started it because they wanted to do something to help protect a species disappearing before our eyes, the chambered nautilus. Nautiluses were significantly disappearing from this planet and even scientists did not know that much about them, let alone the world at large.
Since the nautilus has been on the planet for 500 million years, dating back earlier than the dinosaurs and fish, what do you think has been its secret to survival success?
The secret to success is probably a lot of luck and the ability to adapt to changing environments
(weather, climate, resources, predators, etc.). Even with all that adaptation, the vast majority of species eventually go extinct). Nautiluses have seemed to be perfectly suited to adapt over time to whatever they experienced.
Nautiluses have a strong sense of smell (olfaction) and are able to find decaying food items in the deep sea relatively easily. Their eggs are laid in rock crevices and are nearly camouflaged with the background. They have a strong protective shell that helps to avoid being eaten. Nautiluses do have their limits though. They cannot go below 800 meters or their shell implodes and they cannot survive long periods in warm water above 25 degrees celsius. Although they have survived for so long, they are now isolated to the Indo-Pacific along coral reef slopes whereas they used to inhabit much larger areas of the ocean.
Do you know any unusual facts about the nautilus to share with us today?
Where do I begin? Each nautilus shell is unique to that individual, like a fingerprint. Nautiluses live much longer than their cephalopod (octopus, squid, cuttlefish) cousins by at least 20 years. Nautiluses have a beak and a chainsaw-like tongue called a radula to consume their food. The fuzzy nautilus, Allonautilus scrobiculatus, has a furry, mucus coat on its shell that might help reduce predation. Nautiluses can
“Although they have survived for so long (for 500 million years), they are now isolated to the Indo-Pacific along coral reef slopes.. they used to inhabit the entire planet.”
heal broken parts of their shell extremely well.
Male nautiluses are attracted to all nautiluses whereas female nautiluses are repelled by other females. Nautilus populations are declining in nearly every area where they have been fished. I also think that nautiluses are the most well-known, mysterious animal on the planet because most people have never seen the living animal on video, let alone in person, but many have their shells on a shelf, or in their ear, or have artwork of the animal.
In the modern day, in what ways is this creature under threat, and what is the importance of protecting it?
Like many animals, there are limited resources and predators. For nautiluses, their biggest threat is humans, specifically, humans wanting the nautilus shell to sit on a bookshelf or be made into an earring or furniture inlay. Nautiluses do not begin reproducing until they are at least 8-12 years old and when they do, they only lay about 10 eggs at a time.
The eggs then take at least a year to hatch. At the rate humans fish nautiluses and sell them all over the world, the nautilus populations cannot survive. Further, the way that nautiluses are fished is similar to shark finning in a sense. Just as the fins are harvested from the live shark and the live shark is tossed back in the ocean. The living nautilus animal is ripped from its shell and tossed back in the ocean, alive. We are working with a large group of organizations to come up with a solution that benefits the nautiluses AND the communities that rely on them as income. If nautiluses disappear, we all lose.
What is Save The Nautilus doing to help conserve the nautilus, and what can we do to support this effort?
Save the Nautilus does it all! We work on awareness, education, communication, advocacy, and research. Our goal is to share the nautilus story with as many people as possible and so far, I think we’ve been pretty successful. The work of our team and collaborators has led to the first international and United States regulation of the shell trade Nautiluses are now regulated under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the species, Nautilus pompilius, is listed as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act.
We try to be active on social media but I think we are more successful at just talking to people on our field expeditions across the world and back home locally. No matter the age, background, education, job, religion, etc., we have shared the nautilus story.
The nautilus story is an incredible account of a species’ life on this planet and something that I think we can all gain inspiration and appreciation for.
We have learned that the nautilus is well adapted to its environment, having helped it to survive for over 500 million years, but it has a weakness - humans are its greatest threat, who fish the nautilus for the beauty of their shells. Through research and raising awarenss of the nautilus, Save the Nautilus makes the point that if it becomes extinct, everyone loses.