Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 31, 2016


Dr. Abel Valdivia, (510) 844-7111,

Protection Sought for Nautilus, Ancient Mollusk Vanishing Due to Shell Trade

Chambered Nautilus Has Changed Little in 500 Million Years,
Now Threatened With Extinction by Widespread Harvest, Trade

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity today petitioned to secure Endangered Species Act protection for the chambered nautilus, an ocean mollusk threatened with extinction due to overharvest for the international shell trade. Because of its unique spiraling shell that is a classic example of a fractal pattern, the shell is a popular commodity. Over the past 16 years, nearly 1.7 million nautilus shell products were imported into the United States.

Chambered nautilus
Chambered nautilus photo by Greg J. Barord. Photos are available for media use.

“These fascinating animals seem like they’re from another time and place, and we’re lucky to share the planet with them. Unfortunately, without help, we’re risking losing them forever,” said Dr. Abel Valdivia, a marine scientist with the Center.

A relative of squid and octopi, the chambered nautilus grows to about 8 inches long and has a spiraled shell and about 90 tentacles that it uses to catch prey. It’s often called a “living fossil” because of its striking resemblance to ancestors that swam shallow seas half a billion years ago. Although nautiluses have survived five major mass extinctions, today nautilus are threatened by extinction due to excessive overfishing and trade. For example, one population in the Philippines declined more than 80 percent in just 15 years. The future of nautilus is also threatened by ocean acidification, which can impair the ability of mollusks to build the shells they need to survive.

Today’s petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service seeks to curtail imports of chambered nautilus shells and to help prevent the extinction of the species in the Indo-Pacific. It also calls for the U.S. government to encourage the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Indo-Pacific countries to enforce their environmental laws and stop the unsustainable harvest of chambered nautiluses. Recently, the U.S. joined with Fiji, India, and Palau in proposing to list the entire nautilus family in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which would also be an important step in curbing international trade.

“The chambered nautilus is being collected and sold into extinction for jewelry and other trinkets,” Valdivia said. “Endangered Species Act protections can play a lifesaving role for these incredible animals, but we need to act fast.”

Learn more about the chambered nautilus.

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