For hundreds of years, for Rational Hedonists, the chambered swirls inside the nautilus shell have symbolized closing the door to the past, moving on and the continuity of life in the face of trials and tragedy.
It is thought that Aristotle was referring to the chambered nautilus when he wrote in his book, "Historia Animalium" regarding cephalopods.:
"There is another that is found in a shell, like a snail; this never comes out, but remains in the shell as a snail does and sometimes puts out its tentacles”
Because the fishing industry in the the Greek islands are located in the Mediterranean, and as a result of Alexander's push through much of the known world at the time, many strange treasures and creatures filtered back to Athens.
Much of what is known about the living nautilus has been learned in the last 25-30 years. Although they have been successfully mated in captivity, the first hatched nautilus to survive doesn't seem to have happened until 1990.
Nautilus are not like the vast mussels, oysters, clams, crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, shrimp, prawns) or even the family of cephalopods (octopi and squid), of which it belongs. All of these other creatures are harvested in fairly large numbers and able to sustain stable populations.
Not so the nautilus. It does not even mature enough to reproduce until it is fifteen years old and then perhaps a dozen eggs take nine months to a year to hatch, then must survive being eaten or captured for the shell for fifteen years in order to reproduce itself. It is being over-fished in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Guinea and other areas in flooding the market - all for its shell. Because of the long time before reaching sexual maturity and egg maturity, a creature that has been around since before the first dinosaurs and survived whatever killed them off, is not surviving man's desire for ornamenting himself with its shell and disappearing in alarming numbers.
As Rational Hedonists, we do not need the nautilus shell. What has always been important to us is the symbol, what it represents, which can just as easily be conveyed by creating artistic reproductions through the medium of jewelry (metalwork), woodwork, painting, computer graphics, etc. We have the ability to convey the image and its meaning without stripping the creature of its life and shell simply to adorn ourselves or remind ourselves of pushing forward after hard times. We are better than that. We do not need useless trophy kills, nor do we need to support the industry encouraging the poor to bring an ancient species to extinction.
Tradition is not reason enough to continue promoting something which is wrong. During our annual international online conference (December 2013), it was decided to separate from our past and no longer promote buying nautilus shells as a symbols within Rational Hedonism, and instead, begin using the already extinct ammonite shell or other artistic materials and expressions of a nautilus shell.
A symbol is just that, representing an idea or concept. Many of us already have nautilus shell necklaces, what is done is done; we are not about looking back. But from this point on, if, due to a death or a life changing move, you find yourself shopping for yourself or another, there are less fragile alternatives such as wood, silver and gold nautilus designs depicting the chambered swirl. If the traditional gift of a cut shell is still desired, use the fossil of the already extinct ammonite- there is some beautiful ammonite jewelry.
In the same way living coral and animals with ivory are now protected, we discussed supporting adding the chambered nautilus to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA). There is also an independent website, SavetheNautilus.com started by two young boys dedicated to raising funding to support further fact-gathering research regarding the nautilus population.
The timeless nautilus lazily swam in the oceans before and during the dinosaurs, even surviving the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs, safely buried under its blanket of deep water.
Now all it needs to do is survive us.
Let the ancient nautilus keep its shell, that is all it has. We humans are capable of finding creative alternatives.
G.K. is currently the official Spokesman representing Rational Hedonism online; an Ordained Celebrant (not "celibate"!) with R.H. and conducts or advises others with Weddings, Civil Unions, Remembrance Ceremonies (both people and pets), Adoption and Naming Ceremonies; and conducts "Garden" Parties for Rational Hedonists throughout the United States.