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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 22;6(2):e16311. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016311.

Vertical distribution and migration patterns of Nautilus pompilius.

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School of Biomedical Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Vertical depth migrations into shallower waters at night by the chambered cephalopod Nautilus were first hypothesized early in the early 20(th) Century. Subsequent studies have supported the hypothesis that Nautilus spend daytime hours at depth and only ascend to around 200 m at night. Here we challenge this idea of a universal Nautilus behavior. Ultrasonic telemetry techniques were employed to track eleven specimens of Nautilus pompilius for variable times ranging from one to 78 days at Osprey Reef, Coral Sea, Australia. To supplement these observations, six remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives were conducted at the same location to provide 29 hours of observations from 100 to 800 meter depths which sighted an additional 48 individuals, including five juveniles, all deeper than 489 m. The resulting data suggest virtually continuous, nightly movement between depths of 130 to 700 m, with daytime behavior split between either virtual stasis in the relatively shallow 160-225 m depths or active foraging in depths between 489 to 700 m. The findings also extend the known habitable depth range of Nautilus to 700 m, demonstrate juvenile distribution within the same habitat as adults and document daytime feeding behavior. These data support a hypothesis that, contrary to previously observed diurnal patterns of shallower at night than day, more complex vertical movement patterns may exist in at least this, and perhaps all other Nautilus populations. These are most likely dictated by optimal feeding substrate, avoidance of daytime visual predators, requirements for resting periods at 200 m to regain neutral buoyancy, upper temperature limits of around 25°C and implosion depths of 800 m. The slope, terrain and biological community of the various geographically separated Nautilus populations may provide different permutations and combinations of the above factors resulting in preferred vertical movement strategies most suited for each population.

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