The Search for the Nautilus Egg

Latest update July 30, 2018 Started on June 1, 2018

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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In The Field

Yadra Vinaka
While in the field, one of my favorite things to do is release the nautiluses we catch back to the sea, either free diving or using SCUBA. I "burp" them, to ensure no air got trapped in the main chamber. I make sure they are jetting around normally. I enjoy it most free diving them down and watching their decent while I'm holding my breath.

Yesterday, was a new experience doing that.We had just pulled up a trap with 2 nautiluses. We had processed them on board the boat quickly and I was taking one back to the sea for burping and release, but also to photograph.It was about 1700 (5pm), the sun was behind clouds starting to set. I was free diving it down, in the "nautilus zone", when something caught the corner of my eye...

The rest of the crew was on the boat processing the other nautilus. I'm sure they were aware of my position in the water. More importantly, I knew where the boat was. The shimmer that caught my eye was a fish, then another, then another, and now a whole school of skipjack tuna. It was incredible to see! Then my science brain goes to, 'Hmm, it's dusk. There is a school of tuna. What eats tuna? Sharks do." And sure enough, as I am ascending I play "chicken" with a bull shark for a bit, not meaning to. It was about 5-6 feet. It's a strange sensation having a shark come toward you. Not fear, just realization that this is their home and I'm some clumsy primate trying to visit. Saw a couple other reef sharks. Then more silhouettes appeared around me...

So, I'm on snorkel gear. At dusk. With a nautilus, that thankfully had already made its way back down. With sharks and their prey. I was not worried that the sharks were going to come and attack me. I've dived with sharks before. But snorkeling with them, in open water, was an unsettling feeling. I mainly did not want to get caught up in a feeding frenzy, if that happened...

Again, I knew where the boat was. I made my way to the boat, which took a few minutes, and man, adrenaline really helps you when you need to kick your way into a boat with no easy way to get back in. And I am not kidding here -- Once on the boat, the water boiled for a few minutes as some of the skipjack tuna jumped out of the water while I'm sure others were dinner.

Humbling experience and really puts you in your place when you are not in your normal comfort setting. Heck, I was glad to see so many sharks here, looking back that is, haha!


Bula VInaka

Our egg hunt has been derailed, for circumstances outside of our control...

But our deep sea exploration continues on! In Suva, we recorded a rather strange behavior, if you want to call it that, between a nautilus and a fish. Words can't really do the video justice or convey the perplexed look on my face when I saw this.

Is this some type of symbiotic relationship? Is it by chance? Is the fish using the nautilus for protection? Is the nautilus using the fish for protection? Does the nautilus even "know" the fish is there?

Every deep sea dive expedition brings something new to science, new to the world.


Yadra Vinaka
It is important to focus on the science, through the ups and downs. After all, the continued exploration of the deep sea nautilus habitat and its conservation is why we are here in Fiji.

However, something often overlooked is the cultural aspect of field work and the experiences we have each day, far different than our own back home. While waiting to get on our boat for afternoon work, we caught this game of Net Ball on a Saturday. I'm still not sure of the rules of net ball, but there is no dribbling, similar to basketball, but very different... Alongside the game, young kids were content with continually jumping into the nearby water, over and over again, laughing the entire time.

Yes, it's about the science. But the science is really about the people and for the people.



Finally able to post one of our more interesting dives on a reef 50-70 meters below, in the mouth of a bay, surrounded by sandy bottoms. I think the coolest part was once we finally started to see it in view after diving down. We had planned to do the dive outside the bay, but the winds, waves, and currents were too strong.

So many colors!!!


We had a bright idea, luckily (haha), and decided to ship our larger gear items on the ferry from Savusavu to Suva. Definitely too big for an airplane. And they take way too much time to construct at each location, and also cost more money to do over and over...

So, we loaded up the gear on the ferry. I had to take a flight our of Labasa a day early because of issues with flights... Labasa was about a 90 minute drive from Savusavu. Then about a 40 minute flight to Suva. Then a 30 minute drive to the hotel. Then, curry for dinner.

The next day (25th of July), a friend helped me pick up the traps from the ferry that had arrived. We transported them to the fisheries office in Lami, Fiji and found one of our old traps from 2013, still in working condition!!!

First two days in Suva were spent meeting with local officials at the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Itaukei Affairs, Ministry of Fisheries, Department of Environment, and Department of Immigration... Today, 27th of July. we have traps in the water baited with the lovely raw chicken and after being in the water a couple hours now, hopefully are filling up with nautiluses!!!

Of course, as I write this, a strong breeze has picked up which feels great. But spells trouble for the seas out there. I don't think I'll sleep well tonight wondering about our traps...

Moce Mada

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Bula Bula

If a non-reliable internet connection is one of the few annoyances on the trip, that's a good thing! This was our 4th, and final, nautilus caught in our baited traps as we are releasing it back into the sea.

Our time in Savusavu came to an end. Half of our team had to leave. The other half? We are in Suva, Fiji about to embark on the second part of our expedition. We received some very exciting news yesterday about our work this week, so hopefully we get more good news today, and then I can share that news later today!!!

Savusavu Goals/Recap: (1) Deploy BRUVS to estimate population abundance - CHECK, (2) Deploy Baited Traps to estimate fishery catch rates and collection population demography data - CHECK, (3) Deploy ROV to search for nautilus eggs - CHECK, BUT NOT COMPLETE, (4) Visit local schools - NOT COMPLETE, (5) Engage members of community - CHECK, and (6) Setup infrastructure for future trips - CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK

Altogether, a very, very successful trip to record live nautiluses in an area never before explored in Fiji. These studies are a piece of the larger nautilus puzzle. The nautilus puzzle is a big piece of the overall deep sea ecosystem that nautiluses call home.



Even with all of the confidence, experience, and know-how, dangerous situations can come out of field work. Last night, we had a reminder of just how quickly our work can become hazardous...

Our plan was to set one trap, 1 BRUVS, and deploy the ROV to search for nautilus eggs. The winds had picked up since the morning, the waves weren't huge (I used to work in Alaska), but with 4-6 foot swells in an 18 foot boat, it makes work annoying. The trap was deployed to 400 meters with no problems. We set out to deploy the BRUVS and everything was going as planned...

As I was tying one last knot into our buoy, it suddenly was ripped out of my hands and headed to the back of the boat, fast. Fortunately, no one was in the way. This didn't make sense. There was some slack in the line and the ripping was fast. What happened?

Well, just enough of the slack was out and the boat got turned in the waves just enough to come together for a perfect storm. The rope ended up tied up in one of the engine props and the depth sounder. Fortunately, we weren't going fast and there was not too much tension from the BRUVS so it neatly wrapped around the prop. Now what?

The wind and waves were picking up. It was getting darker. We were a couple miles from the dock, In about 300 meters of water. In an area we had just recorded several 2 meter sharks the day before. The least of my worries were the sharks. Someone had to jump in the water and untangle this mess...

That someone was me. With a mask and snorkel, I jumped in the water. I first had to get the line untangled from the depth transducer, this was pretty easy and quick. Then, came the prop. By now there was a lot of tension. We could not pull any slack from the line to cleat it off to the boat. I was getting banged around but still well aware of the hazards. My main concern was staying close enough to the boat, in the darkness, so they could see me from the top. I did not want to get separated from the boat at all!!! We tried a few things that didn't work. Next step, go in reverse with 1 of the engines and get enough slack in the line that we can pull it in, cleat it off, then untangle it from the other engine prop. "Get out of the way Greg, we're going in reverse." This will be interesting. So, I get out of the way, and try to keep up as the boat throttles in reverse. The captain throws me a line at some point, then I hang on. Success! Enough slack in the line. We cleat it off. I take a couple breaths and head to the prop to untangle the line. Now it was relatively easy with no tension on it. Freed the line, got on the boat, checked the buoy, and headed for the dock.

We made the decision not to deploy the ROV in these conditions. All in all, the above probably took a good 20-25 minutes. It seemed like just a few seconds. Field work is amazing, I love it. But it can turn dangerous in a split second, even as you are doing everything correctly. We will revisit our protocols to see if we did overlook anything and be prepared for the next deployment.


It isn't the nautilus egg, but it is the animal that lays the nautilus egg... the NAUTILUS!!!

This is from the 1st night of BRUVS ever set in Savusavu, Fiji and we recorded 1, maybe 2, nautiluses along with a large snapper (Etelis) and a large, deep-water "eel-like" fish (it has fins, so not a true eel) that might be one of the primary predators of nautiluses with its large jaws... Back to sea!



Yesterday evening, we deployed one of our ROVs to start the search for the nautilus egg. Deployed is about all we were able to do. It was pretty choppy so we aborted the mission early. But, we did record some pretty good sized sharks right at the surface! Hopefully the seas calm down a bit this afternoon...


Way cooler than my first time piloting a Trident. That's amazing


Through the so-so internet connection (can't complain out here in Fiji really), we've been working away. Last night, we set one trap and one BRUVS. This morning, we set out before sunset to pull our gear up. Well, first to see if our gear was still here, and then to pull it up and see what we've caught in our traps and what we recorded on our video.

After about 2 hours of "Heave-ho", our trap and BRUVS came up from the depths. Inside of our trap, was nothing. No organisms. No bait. Nothing. Before checking our video, we have to run back to shore, rinse everything off, dry everything off, charge everything, and then take a look. I wonder what we'll see...



Peaceful morning start to our day!!!

Today's "To-Do" List: (1) Practice piloting our remote operated vehicle (ROV) before using it in the ocean tomorrow. (2) Finalize our baited traps, (3) conduct depth profiles over survey sites, (4) deploy two baited traps at 1800 h, (5) prepare the rest of gear (ROVs, BRUVS),(6) finalize school visits and local outreach, (7) and prepare for pulling up our traps tomorrow and getting some nautiluses!!!!


Nautilus Nightly Notes - Day One: 17 July 2018
Our entire team is now in Savusavu, Fiji after navigating airports, taxis, sidewalks, baggage, flights, poor plane movies, "sleeping" upright, and more of all of that. But with all that, the views from our last plane, which was small for me (and considering I don't like flying, it made me very uneasy), were incredible. You could almost see all of the nautiluses just waiting to make their cinematic debut to our underwater cameras in just a couple of days. But we are here and we landed on the ground running! Our gear is ready to be used tomorrow, which is so awesome! All of our bags arrived today! And everything is coming together!

Weather and Bug Report Cloudy, rainy, and sunny all day. Slight wind. Little bit humid. Not too warm. Bugs not too bad.

Moce Mada

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Glad y’all made it safely! Good luck capturing the footage you need!

Thanks very much David! ROV practice today, and going to be underwater tomorrow!!!

Stepping on the first plane means only one thing - The Great Nautilus Egg Hunt has begun! Although there are still hours of flying (currently over Cheyenne, Wyoming), changing planes, changing airports, layovers, checking bags, and sleeping with a neck pillow, this is the time I use to pose questions to myself and our team about the upcoming expedition, like...

Where do we purchase bait? What do we do if the weather changes, for the worse? Did anyone bring extra sunscreen? Who wants to take charge of our social media on the trip? What happens if we don't see any nautiluses at our first site? What could be complications with the remote operated vehicle?

But perhaps most importantly, I now start my field work superstitions. First one is that I don't shaver while in the field. Second, I like to have sour patch kids on hand. Third, I only wear sandals after touching down. Fourth, I set time aside, somehow, to reflect and enjoy every moment of the expedition. Fifth, I have a cigar on the last day.



I'll be starting my journey of flights and airports tomorrow, so I suppose it is time to pack. I've never been able to get myself to pack days before hand. I prep it, make sure I have everything (even though I always forget something), and then toss it in bags the day before. I'll be traveling with 5-6 bags myself... Back to packing... Moce!


Bula vinaka
Final stages or getting everything ready to make the long, long trip over to Fiji. I'll be flying out Saturday, July 14th, with an overnight in Phoenix, Arizona, and then into Los Angeles, California and off to Fiji. After all is said in done, I'll meet the rest of our team in Savusavu, Fiji on July 17th in the afternoon. But work has already started on the ground in Savusavu with one of our steel frames for our underwater video cameras already constructed. In about 6 days, this bare steel frame will house an HD video camera and LED light while it sits on the bottom of the ocean in Fiji, recording nautiluses, fishes, sharks, and I'm sure some surprises... Moce



5 days until we will be touching down in Fiji. It's a good time to study up on some of my Fijian, which isn't much at all, but a start. Here are some common Fijian words if y'all want to study up with us. As I learn more during our trip, I'll share them! I love (domoni in Fijian) the Fijian language!!!

Hello - Bula, Bula vinaka, Ni sa bula Good Morning - Yadra Good Bye - Moce, Moce mada Good Luck - Vanuinui vinaka Yes - Io No - Sega Please - Yalo vinaka Thank You - Vinaka vaka levu Sorry - Ni vosoto sara I Don't Know - Au sega ni kila Day - Siga Monday - Moniti Tuesday - Tusiti Wednesday - Vukelulu Thursday - Lotulevu Friday - Vaukaraubuka Saturday - Vaukarauwai Sunday - Sigatabu Tomorrow - Nimataka 1 - Dua 2 - Rua 3 - Tolu 4 - Va 5 - Uma 6 - Omo 7 - Vitu 8 - Walu 9 - Ciwa 10 - Tini


Any chance you can add audio to that?

+1 to Denise's comment. Awesome.

When planning an expedition, there are still many other things going on at the same time. Keeping it all straight and organized is important!

Currently, I am in Wellington, New Zealand presenting aspects of our research at the Society of Conservation Biology Oceania meeting being held at the Te Papa Museum. It is a meeting focused on conservation issues throughout the Western and South Pacific areas. Conferences like these are great places to share our work, but also important to learn what others are doing. You never know how infrared drone surveys of koala bears or dogs trained to find whales from feces in the water will impact your work, give you new ideas, or simply inspire you.

#SCBO2018 #SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong #NautilusEgg

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Nautiloids might be 500 million years old, but their reproductive strategy is nothing like its cephalopod (Class Cephalopoda) or mollusc (Phylum Mollusca) cousins. Actually, nautiluses reproductive traits are more similar to large mammals, sea turtles, and in fact, humans.

Nautiluses do not become sexually mature until 12-15 years old! Nautiluses mate tentacles to tentacles (video) as the male passes a spermatophore to the female, using a modified tentacle called a spadix. Female nautiluses lay up to 10 eggs at a time (based on aquarium research). The eggs take 1 year to hatch (based on aquarium research). The hatchling is a miniature version of the adult nautilus and it will take it 12-15 years to continue the process.

Now remember that nautiluses have been relentlessly fished and traded for decades, with no respect to these facts. It's no wonder that they are declining...

#SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong #NautilusEgg

The Secret Life of Nautiluses: Part 27

"Don't mind us", says the male nautilus. "I'm just transferring my spermatophore". #WorldOceansDay! #savethenautilus

Posted by The Nautilus Files on Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nautiloids might be 500 million years old, but their reproductive strategy is nothing like its cephalopod (Class Cephalopoda) or mollusc (Phylum Mollusca) cousins. Actually, nautiluses reproductive traits are more similar to large mammals, sea turtles, and in fact, humans.

Nautiluses do not become sexually mature until 12-15 years old! Nautiluses mate tentacles to tentacles (video) as the male passes a spermatophore to the female, using a modified tentacle called a spadix. Female nautiluses lay up to 10 eggs at a time (based on aquarium research). The eggs take 1 year to hatch (based on aquarium research). The hatchling is a miniature version of the adult nautilus and it will take it 12-15 years to continue the process.

Now remember that nautiluses have been relentlessly fished and traded for decades, with no respect to these facts. It's no wonder that they are declining...

#SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong #NautilusEgg

The Secret Life of Nautiluses: Part 27

"Don't mind us", says the male nautilus. "I'm just transferring my spermatophore". #WorldOceansDay! #savethenautilus

Posted by The Nautilus Files on Thursday, June 8, 2017

About 3 weeks until our team touches down in Savusavu, Fiji and begins our search for the nautilus egg! Whenever you're exploring the deep sea, there are always a few surprises in store...

Take this 7-armed octopus (Haliphron atlanticus) we observed in the Philippines at about 300 meters. It actually hung around our camera for several minutes going back and forth, back and forth. What was it doing? Why was it there? What attracted it to our camera? We may never know the answer, but the fun part is continuing to search for those answers and share our findings!

It's fun to wonder what surprises await us in the deep waters of Fiji...

#SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong

Take a look at your fingerprints? What do you notice about each one? Are they the same? Different? What about zebras? Or nautiluses???...

Just like our fingerprints and zebras, the pattern of each nautilus shell is unique to every individual nautilus. Nautiluses from different geographic regions have general differences in their striping patterns (in photo) and within the regions, the individual nautiluses have unique stripes.

The striped patterns are common in art, architecture, design, and of course, exploited for the shell trade. (Some designs are more sought after than others). As scientists, we rely on the striped "fingerprint" of each nautilus shell to help us learn just how many nautiluses there are in an area. With a photo and video record, we can track individual nautiluses over time and ensure we are not counting them twice.

There are also other differences between the nautiluses in the photo, what other differences do y'all see???

#SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong


Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) are one of our primary methods we use to assess population abundances of nautiluses. Each BRUVS consists of a steel frame, video camera in underwater housing, LED light in underwater housing, a bait stick, and fishing rope leading up to a surface buoy.

We deploy them overnight and record the number of nautiluses, and other species, attracted to the bait source over 12 hours. In addition to population information, the video records new behaviors, reproduction, predation, species composition, habitat information, sedimentation rates, and so on...

There is always something new to see with each deployment and in about 4 weeks, we'll see what comes up on the video in Fiji!

#SaveTheNautilus #NautilusStrong


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) - _

Nautilus pompilius_ proposed for listing at Threatened Species on United States Endangered Species Act (USESA) -


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!


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.


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 ( 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.

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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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