Last week was my birthday and with Steve away I was totally expecting to spend it by myself. I thought if the weather was nice I would go to town in the afternoon, find a nice little café, order a very decadent dessert and a glass of red wine and people watch for a bit. I had planned to stop at the butcher to pick out a nice steak (Vanuatu is renowned for its high-quality, farm-raised beef) so that I could cook myself a nice dinner, watch the sun set and read the stack of emails and well wishes I was sure everyone would send to me. Maybe if I was lucky the internet connection would actually be fast enough to have a brief chat to Steve. I might be all alone but that’s no reason to call off the celebrations.
Wasn’t I wasn’t expecting was to wake up on the morning of my birthday to an ear ache that progressed to stuffy sinuses, and then a few days later a sore throat and a few more days after that a hacking cough. Needless to say there was no cake, no steak and no wine.
So in lieu of Bday excitement, a little something that happened recently.
In a rare stroke of luck a couple weeks ago I happen to find a nautilus shell on the beach where I land the dinghy. I couldn’t believe it at first, these are not the kind of creature that visit beaches. In fact they live in deep water, are nocturnal, shy and not often seen. The shell on the beach still had some of the creature still inside it, although its exterior tentacles and eyes had been removed there was still a chunk of firm, white flesh lodged in the broken shell. It looked like it had been gnawed. I figured perhaps it had been caught in a net of a local fisherman and then eaten by one of the local dogs or pigs that roam the area.
As beautiful as the broken shell was I was not prepared to let it fester in the sun all day while I was in town doing errands and then try and dislodge the rotting carcass when I got home. The gag inducing stench of a half-dead, sun-baked sea critter is a hard odour to remove.
A resigned to taking a photo.
Imagine my surprise when two days later, bobbing in the shallows at the same beach I found another shell. As I plucked it from the water I quickly realized this was not the same shell I had found on the beach. Although damaged in a similar way it was bigger, much more intact and, to my delight, empty. Just to make sure I dug out the camera and compared the patterning on the two shells; completely different.
This nautilus did not look like it had been chewed on by dogs but had scratches and semi-circular bits broken off it. If you’ve ever owned a parrot you’d say they looked like beak marks. There was no algae growing on it so the creature had not long been vacated from its protective shell. I took it home, scrubbed it with fresh water and left it to dry in the cockpit while I went to do a little research.
Turns out nautilus are a favourite snack of octopus, hence the beak marks. They are usually deep water creatures but are known to dwell closer to the surface in Vanuatu due to favourable water temperatures. Talking to the locals it also turns out that only a stone throw from Kate is a wreck called the Star of Russia, a popular spot for divers and a known hangout for nautilus, and perhaps a hungry octopus or two.
The most interesting fact I found was that nautilus are often a referred to as a “living fossil” as they haven’t changed much over the last 500 millon years. Proving you can be strange and beautiful and old. There is hope for me yet!