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International Nautilus Research

Chambered nautiluses are cephalopods, related to squids and octopuses, but easily differentiated by their large banded shells. They are mainly found in the western Pacific Ocean, extending from the Philippines south to the Great Barrier Reef, and in the Indian Ocean extending from Indonesia south along the western coast of Australia. They can also be found in American Samoa. 

Chambered nautiluses include two genera, Nautilus and Allonautilus. They are highly vulnerable species due to their life history characteristics, including low fecundity, slow growth, and late maturity. They generally live in distinct populations, geographically separated from other nautiluses, which may not allow for colonization of areas. They are also limited by depth, temperature tolerance, and are susceptible to predation. In addition, they are targeted not primarily as a food source, but for their shells, which are sold commercially and traded internationally for use in art, furniture, and jewelry, among other things. Their status in the wild is not well known.     

United States proposal to list Nautilus species in Appendix II of CITES is adopted at 17th Conference of the Parties

Conservation actions for chambered nautiluses, devil rays and sharks were agreed to on October 3, 2016, among member nations or “parties” to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa. "NOAA applauds CITES parties and the global community for taking steps at CoP17 towards ensuring that the international trade in key marine species is legal and sustainable,” said Eileen Sobeck, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries. “We are particularly pleased to see that the trade in chambered nautiluses and devil rays – species that are extremely vulnerable, largely unregulated, and at risk of population decline due to international demand – will now be regulated

Earlier in  2016, the United States, joined by the nations of Fiji, India, and Palau,  announced  their submission of  the proposal for consideration at  the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) to list the entire family of chambered nautiluses in Appendix II of CITES. A global treaty, CITES protects species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international trade, and  ensures that the trade in nautilus shells is legal and sustainable.   

NOAA’s Role in Nautilus Research

NOAA Fisheries has collaborated for several years with other range countries and researchers to assess the impact of international trade on these iconic species. NOAA has also contributed funding to a number of studies looking into the impact of trade on these species. A 2016 published study conducted by TRAFFIC investigated the trade of chambered nautilus in the range countries of Indonesia and the Philippines, and in major consumer market to determine if trade is a threat to this species. The study called for better monitoring of international nautilus trade

A 2014 study also  compared nautilus populations in the Philippines, Australia, Fiji, and American Samoa, and explores the potential impact of fishing on population abundance. NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service also held a workshop in June 2014 that brought together experts in the study of chambered nautiluses to share and discuss the available biological information and trade data. The purpose of the workshop was to inform the U.S. Government about the status and biology of chambered nautilus populations, their demand in international trade, and what impact such trade may have on wild populations. Click here to access the meeting summary and presentations from the workshop.

For questions about research that NMFS has funded on nautilus, please contact Kristin Rusello (



  • Nautiluses possess a siphon tube, known as a hyponome, which runs the length of the shell, allowing the nautilus to control buoyancy through regulation of air and water in the shell chambers.

  • Unlike other cephalopods, nautiluses are relatively long-lived, reaching ages of 15-20, or more, years.

  • Nautiluses are hunters and pick up food scents in the water column with chemosensors on their tentacles.

  • Nautiluses are carnivores and consume things like fish, crabs, and lobsters with their sharp beak-like mouth.