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The Search for the Nautilus Egg

June 1 2018
sea

We know the eggs are out there, but where? We even know what the eggs look like, thanks to aquarium studies. We also have a good estimate of the depth they are laid at, thanks to other studies. But NOW, we also have the technology available (stay tuned!) to search the deep reef slopes of Fiji for the never-before-scene eggs of the chambered nautilus.


As we search for the nautilus egg, we will also be using other tools to better understand nautiluses and their deep sea habitat, such as underwater video surveillance, radio transmitters, genetic analyses, and more.

Join the Save the Nautilus team as we embark into the deep...

June 1 2018

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Preparation Stage

These shells are what brings our Save the Nautilus team to Fiji. (photo from shell shop in the Philippines)


For decades, nautilus fisheries (primarily in Indonesia and the Philippines) and world-wide trade have gone largely unregulated, with no oversight or monitoring. Imagine if you never, ever, kept track of what was in your bank account and you kept taking, and taking, and taking... Eventually, your account would be empty. This is exactly what has happened to populations of nautiluses. They are fished, fished, and fished some more, until the fishery crashes.Then, the traders, not the fishermen, move to a new area and the process repeats itself. Over and over again.

Even with some great steps made for nautilus conservation (below), it is important that we continue monitoring both fished AND non-fished (Fiji) nautilus populations. It is also important to engage local communities, and the international community, in the continued research to protect nautiluses. In Fiji, we will be continuing surveys, adding new methods to our work, and increasing our impact with even more educational outreach activities. All together, we will save the nautilus! #NautilusStrong #SaveTheNautilus

ALL NAUTILUSES listed on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/pressreleases/2016/chambered-nautilus-10-03-2016.html _

Nautilus pompilius_ proposed for listing at Threatened Species on United States Endangered Species Act (USESA) - https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/listing-chambered-nautilus-under-endangered-species-act

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Thrilled to announce some TERRIFIC NEWS!!!


While in Fiji, we will be joined by the Ocean Media Institute (OMI) who will be documenting the expedition!!! OMI is a non-profit organization whose mission is to expand the public's understanding of ocean science through innovative visual media, and their Award-Winning filmmakers, who are National Geographic Explorers to boot!

We are incredibly excited to have them on board! http://www.oceanmediainstitute.org

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Great news Greg! So excited for your field work.

We at OMI are so excited to be documenting this incredible expedition with your fabulous team!

The nautilus egg (in center of photo below) is not much larger then 2-3 centimeters and it resembles a barnacle (which is a crustacean related to crabs). Based on observations in aquariums, nautilus eggs are laid, one at a time, upon rock structures in the tank. The eggs take about a year to hatch in aquariums and out pops a miniature nautilus, about the size of a dime (2-3cm), that accepts food right away.


Finding eggs laid in an aquarium is hard enough. To find them in the wild, we plan to use a small remote operated vehicle (ROV) to scan the reef wall as it slopes down between 50-150 meter depths. And instead of our team doing all the searching, we will be enlisting the help of the local community in Fiji to operate the ROV in search of the nautilus egg.

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Our expedition is about a month away and we are finalizing our logistics... Until then, here is how Save the Nautilus all came about.


Remember when you were 11? Or wondering what you might be doing when you are 11? While I wanted to be a Marine Biologist (since the age of 4 actually), at 11 or 12, I actually wanted to be a Marine Biologist/Astronaut/President/NBA Player...

When Josiah Utsch was 11, he decided he wanted to do something to help protect nautiluses and he, along with his friend Ridgely Kelly, created the Save the Nautilus organization (www.savethenautilus.com) to promote awareness, education, and support research efforts. Flash forward to today and Josiah and the Save the Nautilus team have reached folks all around the world with the simple message to "Save the Nautilus". It has even inspired an even younger, 'Nautilus Girl' (then 8), who is doing her own thing to share the nautilus story.

It is truly inspiring to see folks this young being so passionate about nautiluses (and really the entire ocean) and doing what they can, in their own unique ways.

https://www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/super-rangers/saving-the-nautilus-with-josiah-and-ridgely/

https://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2015/7/23/Nautilus-Girl-Keeps-up-her-Work-to-Conserve-Species

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Happy World Oceans Day!!! As we all take a closer look at the wonderful ocean world, and continue preparations for our expedition, let's take a closer look at the nautilus.


What exactly is a nautilus?

  • It is a cephalopod mollusc, most closely related to octopus, squid, and cuttlefish.

Where do nautiluses live?

  • Nautiluses inhabit deep water (100-700 meters) coral reef slopes across the Indo-Pacific region.

What are common prey items of nautiluses?

  • Nautiluses are primarily scavengers that feed upon decaying meat and also the molts of various crustaceans (shrimp, lobster, crab).

How do nautiluses find food?

  • Nautiluses use large, olfactory organs called rhinophores, to detect food scents in the currents. When nautiluses get closer to the food, they extend their dozens of tentacles in a 'cone-of-search' display to feel around for food.

What are the predators of nautiluses?

  • Sharks, large fish, and their octopus-cousins all prey n nautiluses. Large groupers seem to 'team-up' to try to catch nautiluses... (video)

(Hmm... There should be a Nautilus Day! Oh wait, there is, in October...)

Expedition Background

Nautiluses represent the last living members of an ancient nautiloid lineage that extends back nearly 500 million years. After surviving every previous extinction event, the lineage is facing threats from unregulated fisheries and trade. Some populations are already locally extinct, after just a few decades of over-exploitation.


As we work to protect nautiluses, we are also trying to learn more about them to address critical knowledge gaps, particularly related to reproduction. One burning question is where nautiluses lay their eggs and how many do they lay. Thankfully, we know what the eggs look like from aquarium studies and have an idea of how many eggs they lay (up to 10 at a time). Scientists have also studied the shell of juvenile and adult nautiluses and have a good estimate of the depths the eggs are laid. However, searching for the eggs requires specific technology to scan deep reef slopes, which we now have available for our team!!!

As we search for nautilus eggs, we will also be continuing our work surveying nautilus populations using baited remote underwater video systems. These videos provide records of nautiluses, and other species (sharks, starfish, sunfish, etc.), in the deep sea. We also attach ultrasonic radio transmitters to track the unique migrations of nautiluses and utilize genetic analyses to better understand the relatedness of nautiluses.

Putting that all together, we can continue to develop and support meaningful conservation efforts and interact with the local and international community in a variety of outreach events. You may have heard of Easter egg hunts. Well, please join us on our Nautilus Egg Hunt!

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