Top 5 Tips for Seashell Hunting

For many, walking the seashore is exercise, but for explorers it is the thrill of the hunt.  The hunt for seashells, that is, natural treasures of the deep, which motivates them.  The excitement lies in the chance, unusual shell the ocean floor has tossed up to be discovered before it can be taken back again. Here are a few tips on how to be a successful seashell hunter locally.

Tip #1:  The best time to look for seashells on Brunswick County beaches is now, winter and early spring, especially after a storm.  In winter, you can ignore shells that in the summer you’d rave about.  One Holden Beach resident shell hunter says the shells are more prevalent in the winter possibly due to fewer people shell searching and stronger surf.  He had been visiting the area for fourteen years prior to moving here in 2003, so he has been at it awhile.

Tip #2:  The best time of day is an hour or two before low tide and a couple of hours after, particularly during new and full moons.  The combined gravitational pull of the sun and moon increases the rise and fall of the tide line.  Serious shell hunters know timing is everything.

Tip #3:  The tides wash shells up all during the year and if you look hard enough, you will find many varieties on all the beaches.  However, the best place to find shells is around the inlets.

Another visitor to Holden Beach says the 200-300 block, 700 block and the east and west ends of provide some of the best shells in Brunswick County.  Another finds the 500-600 block and the points of the island to be especially plentiful.

Tip #4:  The best way to find shells is simply to walk the beaches frequently looking.  Shelling can be casual or it can be an expedition.  Any one can do it and no special equipment is needed really.  Take a net bag, not just for shells but to pick up any litter you come across along the way.  You’ll notice serious shell hunters right away; they carry a walking stick.  Many whelks, murex, and conchs are buried just below the water line with only a knobby ear visible explains a resident.  The stick is used to poke around and uncover these hidden treasures.  Those are really the exception, rather than the rule for seashell hunting in the South Brunswick Islands.

Tip #5:  Another suggests exploring tidal pools and sand bars, also.  Sand dollars burrow just beneath the sand and a stick will help find them too.  He explains a live sand dollar can be seen if buried by the five indentations it will leave in the sand as it is filtering for food.  It is very important to only keep sand dollars that are not living.  You can enjoy watching it, but leave it in its habitat to reproduce. 

Likewise, only collect shells that are uninhabited, if the mollusk is still in the shell leave it undisturbed.  However, most mollusks are nocturnal and shells washed up onto the beaches are empty. 

The beach goers I spoke with claimed to have found many treasures through the years; horse conchs, Florida fighting conchs, bandied tulip shells, and Atlantic star fish to name a few.

Shelling is a past time for locals and a tourist attraction on these barrier islands, where everyone wants to take home a special momento. You never know what you’ll find next.  You never know what the catch of the day will be.  Everyday is different and that is what is so thrilling.


Previously published in The Brunswick Beacon titled “The Thrill of the Hunt”. Reprinted with permission.

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