Save the Nautilus!

One of the most beautiful shells in the world, belonging to the nautilus stenomphalus, is facing a stunning decline in recent years.  Sold as a cheaper alternative to pearls due to its lustrous shell, there are no regulatory protections in place for this vulnerable species.  This softball-sized mollusk is a slow growing animal that takes fifteen years to reach sexual maturity, so a perilous situation has been created through overfishing.

“A horrendous slaughter is going on out here,” said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines. “They’re nearly wiped out.”

“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said Neil H. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the co-editor of “Nautilus:  The Biology and Paleobiology of a Living Fossil.”  Scientists began a formal census in 2011 in at least six regions to find out just how endangered the Nautilus is.

The nautilus has been around for about 550 million years, and hasn’t changed much in the last 200 million.  But it has a new protector:  Josiah Utsch, a 12 year old boy from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was forwarded an article about the animal’s peril from his grandmother, and decided to take action.  He contacted Dr. Ward, and when he found that there was no organization devoted to saving the nautilus, he and his friend Ridgely Kelly, age 11, launched Save the Nautilus.   

Today, news of Save the Nautilus has spread from the United States to Canada, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands.  The boys are using social media, including Facebook, to continue their efforts. The majority of donations have come from other children, but recently, the boys were able to take a flight out of Portland to personally hand Dr. Ward a check for $9000 in his office at the University of Washington.

Years ago, I chose the chambered nautilus as the logo for Dujardin Design Associates, and I have always had a deep love for this sea creature, along with artists who have for years immortalized it in poetry and paintings. I wrote about it in a post in August, 2012, sharing examples of how its spiral has influenced the world of art and design.

Its name means “boat” in Greek, and it first fascinated collectors in renaissance Europe who saw the logarithmic spirals as reflecting the larger order of the universe, as well as the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies.


Thanks to children around the country who have responded to Josiah and Ridgely’s pleas, more attention is being focused on the animals’ plight.  In February, Dr. Ward will conduct research in the American Samoa to determine how fast the nautilus can swim and how long it takes for the creature to reach its natural habitat, 2,000 feet below the surface.  Josiah and Ridgely will join him.

“These boys, out of the blue, show up in my life and they’re doing what I hope all their generation does,” Ward said.  “Start thinking scientifically.

Marine biologists are lobbying for protection of the nautilus.  You can help by spreading the word, and sharing your concern with others.  And of course, donate to Save the Nautilus; Josiah and Ridgely will appreciate your support.

This issue first came to my attention through E Magazine.  You can read more here.



The Chambered Nautilus, by Oliver Wendell Holmes 

THIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main, —
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed, —
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings: —
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!