Spotlight: Rare nautilus species seen for first time in 30 years

The Allonautilus scrobiculatus has been plying the world’s oceans for hundred of millions of years, literally. Its distinctive shell has appeared in fossil records dating back 500 million years. But it hadn’t been seen in so long that many feared it was extinct.

Then … on a recent expedition off Papua New Guinea, biologist Peter Ward spotted the elusive cephalopod.

“My prior field work in the Philippine Islands … from 2011 to early 2014, has already shown that local populations of Nautilus in the Philippines have been fished to extinction, and the fear was that perhaps the same happened to Allonautilus in Papua New Guinea in the thirty years since it was last seen alive,” Ward wrote for National Geographic.

“Before this, two humans had seen Allonautilus scrobiculatus,” Ward told UW Today. “My colleague Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College found Allonautilus first [in 1984], and I saw them a few weeks later.”


A rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus was seen for the first time in 30 years. Photo: Peter Ward.

And below, the rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus, right, swims next to a Nautilus pompilius. Photo: Peter Ward
two nautilus

The expedition, whose goal was surveying nautilus populations off Ndrova Island where Allonautilus was last seen, was sponsored by National Geographic and the U.S. National Science Foundation. Details of the rediscovery were announced in UW Today.


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