Nautilus's beauty could be its ruin

Nautilus's beauty could be its ruin

Naturalists have long marveled at the shell of the chambered nautilus. The logarithmic spiral echoes the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies. In Italy, the Medicis turned the pearly shells into ornate ornaments.

Now, scientists say, humans are loving the living fossil to death.

"A horrendous slaughter is going on out here," said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines.

Close-up of Nautilus Shell Spirals

Close-up of Nautilus Shell Spirals

Buy This

The culprit? Growing global sales of jewelry and ornaments derived from the lustrous shell. Fishermen are killing the nautilus by the millions, scientists fear. On eBay and elsewhere, small shells sell as earrings for $19.95. Big ones - the size of dinner plates - go for $56, often bisected to display the elegant chambers.

Catching the nautilus is largely unregulated; fishermen from poor South Pacific countries gladly accept $1 per shell.

Deceptive marketing may obscure the threat to the nautilus. The opalescent material in the shell is sold as a cheaper alternative to pearls.

It is machined into pleasing shapes and sold as "Osmena pearl." (In the Philippines the Osmena family is a political dynasty; its name lends cachet.)

A recent Web ad offers an "Osmena Pearl Sterling Silver Necklace" for $495. Collectors talk of rare "Nautilus pearls" that sell for thousands of dollars each. Scientists dismiss them as fraudulent.

More about Nautilus's beauty could be its ruin

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Mollusc News.