Paper Nautilus

There’s a certain boredom that characterises this era we’re living in. Or maybe it’s fatigue. The constant barrage of information that has nurtured our curious minds, has also eroded our souls, leaving us aching for something… anything… that is unknown. In the dead of night, we howl at the moon, wondering if any mystery remains and then return to our offices, classrooms, shopping malls and city streets full of knowledge, yet unfulfilled.

There is only one balm for this kind of soul-ache, the panacea for the ills of modern life if ever there was one: nature. Always nature… and more specifically, the ocean.

I was reminded of her unfathomable mysteries once more during a walk at dusk on Betty’s Bay’s Main Beach just the other day. The sun had set and the world was all soft pink and powder blue and grey, the ocean swollen and wild and plastering salty kisses on our lips.

Following the line where the sea meets the sand, we stumbled upon the creature – freshly washed up, exposed, vulnerable, terrifying and beautiful.

No bigger than my hand, she was altogether unearthly: sprawling red tentacles and bulging eyes, peering out (unseeing?) from her delicate encasing – a pure white shell, paper-thin and fragile.

Paper nautilus. I knew the name of the shell and I’d seen similar ones – though not nearly as perfectly unscathed – oftentimes before. But the tiny octopus inside was entirely new to me. I felt a surge of joy as I suddenly knew with certainty that the world still kept its secrets… and if we were patient, observant and treaded lightly, we’d be rewarded with a glimpse.

The information overload I often lament suddenly became a boon, as a quick Google search revealed its name: Argonaut.

A pelagic octopus that spends its life floating around the ocean, tucked safely into its brittle home. More accurately, it’s really only the females who enjoy this carefree existence, secreting their own shells, using the tips of two slightly larger tentacles.

These shells serve a dual purpose, providing them with an egg chamber as well as a buoyancy device to keep floating close to the surface.

Whereas females grow up to 10cm in size (with shells that may reach 30cm in diameter) and mate various times throughout their existence, males rarely surpass 2cm and die shortly after impregnating the female.

We spent a good deal of time marvelling at the strange looking visitor from the deep and then decided to toss her back into the sea, where she would be somewhat less exposed to the hungry beaks of seagulls and such.

As it turns out, she had not been the only pelagic castaway – earlier that same day my aunt and cousin had collected a bounty of paper nautilus on Silversands Beach. While there’s no clear explanation (yay! Let’s embrace mystery) for when and why this happens, it seems like every once in a while our shorelines are blessed with a deposit of paper-thin treasures. Maybe it has something to do with the first hint of winter storms or maybe with the moon and the tides and natural things unperceived by us.

Whatever the case may be, they’re precious reminders of just how drenched in delicate magic our earth still is. – Nadia

Words & Photos: Nadia Krige

By | 2018-05-28T19:21:41+00:00 June 7th, 2016|Travel|