After 30 Years in the Dark, The Rare Fuzzy Nautilus Is Rediscovered, and These Are Its First Digital Portraits

by Owen James Burke

nautilus-and-allonautilus

Nautilus pompilius (left) and Allonautilus scrobiculatus (right) off Papua New Guinea. Photo: Peter Ward.

In 1984, biologist Peter Ward was diving in the waters off Papua New Guinea when he encountered a peculiarly piliferous genera of nautilus, the funky, deep-dwelling mollusk-like cephalopods–the family containing squids and octopi–that whether they liked it or not, played a large role in the invention of the submarine (and, of course, the subsea vessel in Jules Verne’s classic saga).

Ward classified and named his discovery, and then it was never (officially) seen again. Further study of its unique anatomy led to reclassification in 1997, when the furry nautilus was given a genus all its own–Allonautilus (species scrobiculatus).

fuzzynauti

“It’s really nice to see an old friend after a long absence,” biologist Peter Ward writes of his long-lost deep-diving friend (Allonautilus scrobiculatus), for National Geographic. Photo: Peter Ward.

Recently, Ward wanted to see whether the effects of shell hunting and other human exploits had all but wiped out the Allonautilus. It had been reported that such was already the case in the Philippines.

Strapping pieces of chicken and fish to a pole down and sending it down to the creatures’ preferred depths (generally on or near the seafloor between about 500 and 2,600 feet), the idea was to bait-in the elusive nautili, which are bottom scavengers.

Ward and the rest of his 40-person crew worked tirelessly, day and night for nearly a week, filming and trapping several Allonautili, even managing to fix transmitters to some, which should help researchers obtain new and invaluable information about their habitat, depths and temperature preferences, and perhaps even help preserve these living fossils.

Read more at NatGeo. –OJB

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