A University of Washington biologist has once again spotted the rare nautilus more than 30 years after he discovered and identified the then-new species. Last month, he came across the Allonautilus scrobiculatus species of nautilus in the waters near Papua New Guinea. This creature is a type of shellfish, cousin to octopus, cuttlefish, and squid.

Rare 'Living Fossil' Nautilus Spotted For The First Time In Three Decades

The species was first identified in 1984

Biologist Peter Ward first identified the species in 1984. His colleague Bruce Saunders of Bryn Mawr College spotted it again in 1986. But it hadn’t been seen until recently. These creatures tend to stay deep under the water because they don’t like warm water. They come to the surface only to feed at night, when surface waters are cool.

The nautilus has a “spiral staircase” shell, which grows a slimy material. Peter Ward told NBC News that the slimy covering may prevent predators from getting a grip of the animal. Last month, Ward and his colleagues baited a stick with fish and chicken meat and suspended it between 150 meters and 396 meters below the water surface. They had also set a camera to film the activity.

Why is nautilus called a ‘living fossil’?

Eventually, two species of nautilus showed up until a hungry shellfish started bullying them away from the food. Scientists kept the creatures in chilled water while bringing them to the surface for study. That was necessary because nautilus is very sensitive to heat differences. Ward said it was found only near Papua New Guinea. It could be the “rarest animal in the world.” The animal could become extinct due to extensive mining.

There is a reason they are called a “living fossil.” These species have been found in fossil records dating as far as 500 million years back. They witnessed the dinosaurs come and go. But the unchecked practice of nautilus mining is threatening their existence. It means animals that survived two large mass extinctions and have been around longer than the dinosaurs could soon go extinct.