“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. “They’re nearly wiped out.”
The culprit? Growing sales of jewelry and ornaments derived from the lustrous shell. To satisfy the worldwide demand, fishermen have been killing the nautilus by the millions, scientists fear. Now marine biologists have begun to assess the status of its populations and to consider whether it should be listed as an endangered species to curb the shell trade.
On eBay and elsewhere, small nautilus shells sell as earrings for $19.95, and as pendants for $24.95. Big ones — up to the size of plates — can be found for $56, often bisected to display the elegant chambers.