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Rare Nautilus Reveals Itself for First Time Since 1980s

posted: 08/27/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Allonautilus scrobiculatus
Peter Ward

It was a reunion three decades in the making.

University of Washington biologist Peter Ward last spotted Allonautilus scrobiculatus off of the coast of Papua New Guinea in 1984. Only the third human to ever see the creature, Ward quickly realized that A. scrobiculatus was unlike any other previously identified species of nautilus.

"It has this thick, hairy, slimy covering on its shell," Ward remarked. "When we first saw that, we were astounded."

With the exception of a brief sighting in 1986, A. scrobiculatus has completely eluded human contact for nearly three decades -- until earlier this summer.

A baited trap set by researchers near Ndrova Island brought the mysterious creature back onto Ward's radar. Enticed by a feast of chicken and fish meat, A. scrobiculatus wandered into the trap and was quickly apprehended by Ward and his team. The researchers took measurements and small tissue samples from the creature before releasing it back into the ocean.

As it turns out, A. scrobiculatus can only thrive at very specific depths, explaining its isolation from other nautilus populations:

"They swim just above the bottom of wherever they are," Ward explains in a news release. "Just like submarines, they have 'fail depths' where they'll die if they go too deep, and surface waters are so warm that they usually can't go up there."

Ward hopes that his newfound understanding of the rare mollusk can help protect the species: the US Fish & Wildlife Service will decide next month whether to support affording nautilus additional protections per the CITES treaty.

Learn more about marine animals:

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