|More Ocean Resources
The term whelks usually refers to two genera of sea snails (Busycon and Busycotypus) found in near shore areas, mostly along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
The Channeled Whelk (Busycotypus canaliculatus), the only species living along the Pacific Coast species, was introduced into the area in the early twentieth century.
Diet differentiates the whelks from the other large East Coast sea snails, the conchs. While conchs are vegetarian filter feeders, whelks are carnivores, feeding on both living and dead local mollusk species.
Over the past thirty years, commercial whelk harvest has spread along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, mostly for export to Europe and Japan.
Lack of research about the fisheries has led to some problems, including the collapse of the Georgia fishers, and population stresses on Horseshoe Crabs, which are used as bait in some Atlantic fisheries..
Collecting and identifying whelk shells is a popular beach combing hobby.
While the shell is worn, the top picture probably shows the Pear Whelk (busycotypus spiratus), a medium sized species (3-5 inches) that lives in coastal waters from North Carolina, south into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Busycon species are the larger of the two American whelk genera, however their size pails in comparison to the Australian whelk species, the Trumpet Whelk (Syrinx aruanus). It is the world's largest, growing to an average length of over two feet.
The bottom picture probably shows a worn Knobbed Whelk (Busycon carica), a large whelk (up to nine inches) with a thick shell that opens on their right. Its close relative, the Lightning Whelk (Busycon perversum) grows a shell that opens on the left.
The Knobbed Whelk is the official state shell of both New Jersey and Georgia.
© 2009 Patricia A. Michaels