The deep sea is home to numerous strange looking, fascinating creatures that are typically only seen from a high-tech submersible, or perhaps in a television special. Among them, the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilus) – a “living fossil” species which is largely the same as it was more than 400 million years ago. The Academy is among a handful of institutions to successfully display these intriguing creatures, which prefer total darkness.
By day, the wild chambered nautilus hovers at depths up to 500 meters below the surface, and every night, they make the long trek upward to shallow warmer waters to feed on small fishes, crabs and crustaceans. The nautilus’ shell, a spiraling series of gas-filled chambers, is the key to this daily journey. By altering the levels of gas and water in its chambers, the nautilus can maintain buoyancy, or dive, as needed.
Academy staff recently redesigned the nautiluses’ tank to simulate their natural environment more closely. They now float beneath an other-worldly blue light which suits their desire for darkness, and staff are developing technology that will induce a daily temperature change to simulate the conditions that nautiluses encounter during their migration from deep to shallow waters. On your next visit to the aquarium, you’ll find this window into the deep sea around the corner from the upside down jellies.
Photo by John White