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Farewell to the Ancient Nautilus

Nautilus-1-080212They survived that Fifth Great Extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. They even survived the Fourth (Permian) Extinction that wiped out 90 percent of the world’s species , 252 million years ago. But they’re no match for the Sixth Great Extinction – the one that’s unfolding right now.

This time, the nautilus, a cephalopod who’s related to the octopus and the squid, is being felled not by an asteroid, super-volcano or other massive natural event. It’s being felled by the one thing it was never equipped to cope with: human greed for the beauty and mathematical perfection of its shell.

Nautilus’s ability, using the hydraulic system at the heart of the shell, to sink down to ocean depths of several hundred feet and lay eggs there, made these sea creatures immune to all the chaos that was going on at the surface in earlier extinctions. They could slow down their metabolism and just hibernate through whatever was going on above.

But they can’t cope with the fishermen who lure them into baited nets in the waters of the Philippines, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Fiji and Samoa. So they’re now on the edge of extinction, and whereas fishermen used to be able to catch hundreds of them a day, they now catch just one or two.

Worse, rather than catching the younger ones, many of whom would not make it to adulthood anyway, the fishermen catch the larger adults, who are already survivors and have the greatest chance of being able to breed. But the market wants those big shells. And nature has not prepared the Nautilus for the market.

The final insult may be that the industry is fueling rumors that Nautilus can make fabulous pearls, and fake “Nautilus pearls” are being made from the shells to meet the new demand.

Those shells are a marvelous example of the Golden Ratio or Fibonacci sequence of numbers, where each number in the series is the sum of the two previous ones: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. There are various slightly different versions of this in nature, but the essence of the series can be seen in the shape of spiral arm galaxies, in the heart of sunflowers and the swirl of hurricanes, and in shells like the Nautilus:

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hurricane-Irene- Golden-Ratio-080212 spiral-galaxy-fibonacci-080212

In the case of the Nautilus, the shell is made up of a series of quarter-circular arcs where each radius is the next step up in the Fibonacci series, enabling Nautilus to grow without changing its shape.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when the beholder is ugly, greedy and destructive, all beauty is lost.

More about the Nautilus is at Sci-Tech Today