Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 25, 2016


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

Chambered Nautilus, 'Living Fossil' Depleted by International Shell Trade, Moves Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

OAKLAND, Calif.— The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced it will consider giving Endangered Species Act protection to the chambered nautilus, an ocean mollusk threatened with extinction due to overharvest for the international shell trade. In response to a petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fisheries Service issued a finding that endangered species protection may be warranted for this iconic animal, whose unique, spiraling shell has made it a popular commodity for collectors in the United States and Europe. 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.

“This is fantastic news, because without help, the chambered nautilus is facing extinction. We’re lucky to share a planet with these ancient creatures, and I’m hoping we can ensure that our fascination with their beguiling, fractal shells doesn’t lead to their demise,” 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, with a spiral shell and about 90 tentacles 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 they’re threatened with 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 the nautilus is also threatened by ocean acidification, which can impair the ability of mollusks to build the shells they need to survive.

The Center’s petition seeks to curtail imports of chambered nautilus shells and help prevent the extinction of populations 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 United States joined with Fiji, India and Palau in proposing to list the entire nautilus family under 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 parties to CITES will make a decision on the nautilus proposal at their October meeting in South Africa.

“The chambered nautilus is being collected and sold into extinction for jewelry and other trinkets,” Valdivia said. “It’s a tragedy. The protection of the Endangered Species Act could play a lifesaving role for these incredible animals.”

More information on the chambered nautilus can be found here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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