Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Catch a glimpse of the rare mollusc in PNG

An exceptional mollusc, hitherto feared extinct, has been recently discovered at the coast of Papua New Guinea. Environmentalist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific in early August with news that he had encountered what he deliberates to be the world’s rarest animal. The University of Washington professor was part of the innovative discovery team that first found Allonautilus scrobiculatus, a“fuzzy, slimy” mollusc with an iconic twirled shell that's sometimes mentioned to as the crunchy nautilus, 31 years ago. It hasn't been spotted in nearly three decades – until now.

When Mr. Ward returned to the area this summer, he and his colleagues feared the “living fossil” had maybe gone extinct, endangered as they are by shell hunting, and environmental changes. He was delighted to catch another glimpse of the rare mollusc. With the understanding that nautiluses are superior searchers, the research team submerged bait – fish and chicken – between 500 and 1,300 feet below the sea surface, and filmed the action around the lure in 12 hour increments. When the nautilus first seemed on the biologists’ screen this past July, the creature had not been spotted since 1986.

“We not only found them, we captured the first digital images of them alive in the wild, and attached tracking devices that are revealing some of the oldest and deepest secrets of their survival,” Ward wrote in a guest blog post for National Geographic.

Ward and a colleague first discovered the rare critter off of Papua New Guinea's Ndrova Island. Nautiluses are small, distant cousins of squid and cuttlefish from an ancient lineage whose shells appear over the fossil record over a 500 million year period. Ward says this summer’s sighting means that there is still more to learn about these creatures.

Illegal fishing and “mining” operations for nautilus shells have already ruined some populations, Ward said. In September, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to advocate for nautiluses to become a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife.

“As it stands now, nautilus mining could cause nautiluses to go extinct,” said Ward. “This could be the rarest animal in the world. We need to know if Allonautilus is anywhere else, and we won’t know until we go out there and look.”


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