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Sanibel Seashells – Shell Piles Build up after Friday’s Windstorm!
By Susan and Ed Hanna, amateur shellers email: sanibel@earthlink.net

The windstorm from Friday, January 13, 2006 caused a great number of shells to wash up all along Sanibel’s beaches last week, beginning on morning of Sunday, Jan 15 (see photos). On West Gulf Drive’s beach access 7, on Sunday, we spent the day wearing out our backs and the skin off our hands, sometimes blindly scooping up unknown seashells in knee-deep water in the hopes that our handful of shells would net a real “treasure” or rare shell find.

Most people who come to Sanibel for the seeking to collect seashells (shelling) sooner or later come to desire one of the most unusual shells, a Junonia. According to the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce website – the Junonia is “the islands' most coveted seashell”. Why is the Junonia so coveted? Because it’s a rare, large and unusual shell to find and travelers from around the world come here to seek it (see: http://www.conchologistsofamerica.org/articles/y1997/9706_dance.asp). The Junonia lives in deep water and is pushed by wind and waves across many miles to arrive on our beaches, sometimes worn and broken.

According to some, somewhere between five and seven Junonias were found near beach access 7 on West Gulf Drive on Sunday, Jan 15. We were there and only saw 4 whole ones and a couple of “applecores”. A large and perfect lion’s paw and a slightly worn large helmet shell were also found. The Junonias all came rolling up in the water in the space of 20-30 minutes. The next morning, according to the shell grapevine, another 2 or 3 Junonias had been found during Monday morning’s shell scouring of the West Gulf Drive beach.

Many folks ask when the best time for shelling is – the answer we give is that anytime you have the patience and the time to look for shells is a good time. The answer that they really want is when can they find the most numbers of large seashells, which is just after or during high tide during a full or new moon. During a full or new moon, the tides are the most extreme with high tide being higher and low tide being lower. Many folks seem to think that low tide is the best time for shelling. While low tide is just fine for shelling, it is high tide that often drops more shells along our beaches. Dottie Devasure, the unquestioned Junonia queen, says that she finds Junonias at high and low tide areas, at all times of the day. Dottie has over 40 whole Junonias and has collected them for over 30 years. Dottie’s large Junonia collection was featured at the Sanibel Shell museum.

At the group shell gathering at beach access 7, there were about 12 folks from all around the US bending and scooping, sometimes frustrated by the waves that were washing the large shells in faster than we could pick them up. When the Junonias started coming in, the 12 folks hunkered closer together, standing in water that came up to mid-calf or so, trying to maintain balance as each wave broke just behind us.

As a group, we all scored a great number of good shell treasures that day. Some were envious of our accumulation of large horse conchs (around 9-12” in length), while we were envious of the nice Junonias choosing other owners. Some were curious as to how we found our large collection of large horse conchs and lightening whelks. We found 20 horse conchs and 12 large lightening whelks on that day. Our method is to look in knee high water in an shell bank area and when the large shells are washing in from a storm or high winds which drive the shells onto the beach, usually a couple of days after the windiness (such as Sunday). Many live shells of all kinds were found and thrown back to keep our shell population wonderful, because most avid shellers understand that taking live shells hurts our seashell population and our future shelling.

Here are a few website URLs to find information and photos of Sanibel’s seashells:
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum: http://www.shellmuseum.org
Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce: http://www.sanibel-captiva.org/play/guide.asp
Conchology website: http://www.conchologistsofamerica.org/theshells
Jacksonville, Florida Shell Club: http://www.jaxshells.org


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