Seashell Collecting on a Shrimp Boat

Author : Cecilia F. Morett, 2004

I've "worked" on a shrimp boat as a striker (deck hand) every chance I get. I say "work", because although at times the work is very physical and all of my 127 pounds are needed to haul in the lines that pull the nets in , it's very different from my day-job as a bookkeeper for a private elementary school. It's wonderful being out on the ocean long before dawn and each time we go out is different. Sometimes the ocean is flat like a lake. Other times, its rolling, boiling waves slap the bow and wash over the boat, or come over the rails on the deck and wash water side to side. Wind, rain, heat, cold, engine problems, winch problems, running aground, no shrimp, too much shrimp…have all been a part of my shrimping adventures on the 65 foot "Harleigh Lynn". One of the biggest thrills is dumping the catch on deck to see what's in it besides shrimp! Fortunately, the captain (called "Gator") doesn't mind me looking for seashells as I sort the catch with the other striker.

Since early childhood, I've enjoyed collecting seashells and was fortunate to grow up in the coastal town of Port Royal, South Carolina. The Atlantic Ocean was not far away and there were many beach days growing up and lots of time spent "shelling" on the beach at all tides. I still have some of the seashells from those days, and I've never lost interest in picking them up every time I'm on a beach. Working on a shrimp boat provides a unique opportunity to see a variety of shells not found on our local beach. The type of shells that are in the nets seems to depend on where we are shrimping and the depth of the water.

When we are working between the jetties of the Savannah River Channel, we usually drag outside of the buoys marking the shipping channel. The depth of the water in this area ranges from 14 feet to 40 feet. Because the water is in between the jetties, the current typically runs fast whether the tide is coming in or going out. There are seashells in this area, but they are mostly oyster shells or large, thick and heavy clam shells. A few times, the trynet ( a small net pulled in between the large nets) will have nothing but shells in it. When that happens, the captain takes up the large nets to dump them on deck. Nets full of shells don't catch shrimp, and the more shells there are in the net, the heavier the nets get making them more at risk for damage. After a drag yielding too many shells, it's time to shrimp in another area.

Going out of the channel and about 3 miles offshore of Tybee Island in the area of buoy #9, the water is surprisingly shallow….19 to 26 feet deep, but even this far off the coast, the current often runs hard. In this area we often drag up sea urchins and sometimes sea urchin shells. On one particular day, the trynet had over 20 live sea urchins in it. Imagine trying to pour them out of the net with all of their prickly spikes catching and snagging on it! Think of filling a mesh bag with cactus and then trying to dump them out and you'll get the idea of what it was like clearing the net of them! In the same area, we often catch large cockles in the net. We get about as many live cockles as we do cockle shells, and I've accumulated quite a number of cockle shells. I often been tempted to keep one or two of the live ones, as I've heard they make a good chowder. Since I don't know how to prepare them for cooking, they are safely back at sea. If any of you know what to do with them, let me know so I'll be ready for next shrimping season! This area has Banded Tulips in it. At times, the animal is in the shell, and other times a hermit crab has taken up residence. I've been lucky to be able to find several unoccupied to add to my collection.

Picture taken by M. Mike Morett


Another good location for catching seashells in the nets is a little further offshore than the previous location. Between buoys 7 and 5, the water depth ranges from 21 to 28 feet, not too much different than the area near buoy nine. In this area it is common to find whelks (lightning whelk, Atlantic whelk, pear whelk, channeled whelk, knobbed whelk) and their shells. There are whelks of all sizes here and that leads me to believe there must be a colony of them living in this area. At times, the shells are broken or badly chipped. Other times, they are have a thick coat of what looks like cement made of sand. These require time consuming cleaning by soaking and scraping, soaking and scraping until the shell is exposed. Unfortunately, I have not taken any "before" photos for you to see what some of them look like when they come up in the nets! Imagine the shells below covered with ½ inch of sandy, cement-like material that has to be chipped off with a small, sharp screwdriver !

Picture taken by M. Mike Morett

Still heading offshore between buoys 5 and 3, the depth of the water is 21 to 32 feet. It's was out here in August 2004 that a Florida Horse Conch was in the net. It has a few chips on it, but was in fairly good condition though it was covered in a black skin-like material, not the sandy, hard covering like some of the whelk. I was amazed that it was not inhabited, as I would not have been able to keep it, since


I don't believe in killing the animals just for their shells. This shell took many hours of cleaning to get the black covering off of it, and even then, I was not able to remove all of it. It is the largest shell I've found and measures 11 ½ inches long! One day when I was not on the boat, the striker and captain saved a shell for me that was caught in this area. When I saw it the next day on the boat, it looked like a lump of mud. Closer inspection indicated that there was a seashell under there, but what kind, I did not know. It appeared to be some sort of whelk, as it had a whelk-like opening, and rounded lumps on it. This shell too was covered in the same thick, sandy cement that coated some of the other whelk we caught on previous trips. Hours and hours over a period of a week were spent carefully soaking and chipping the crust off of the shell. To my amazement, a Giant Atlantic Murex lay hidden underneath.

Picture taken by M. Mike Morett

Closer to shore, between ½ and 1 ½ miles off of Tybee Island, Georgia there are other types of seashells. It is in this area that the Florida Fighting Conch pictured on the website was found. We had just trawled for half an hour in water from 27 to 42 feet deep, and pulled in the trynet. Amongst the fish, crabs, horseshoe crabs, shrimp there it was, shiny as you see it in the photograph and uninhabited. I had never seen one before that day in a of my years beach walking and shell collecting. It is more common to find Shark Eyes or Banded Tulips in these waters. It seems that we find just as many shells inhabited by the owners as we do inhabited by hermit crabs.


Picture taken by M. Mike Morett

Also found in this area are Shark Eyes. Like many of the other seashells, many are inhabited by the original animal, or a hermit crab. On one trip when the trynet was dumped on deck, I spotted a small Florida Horse Conch about 3 ½ inches long amongst the shrimp, crabs, fish, and horseshoe crabs. While we were busy throwing the horseshoe crabs off the boat, I noticed the Florida Horse Conch move, meaning that was another shell I would not get to keep. Much to my surprise, the hermit crab that was in the shell came out of it and onto the deck. Since it wanted to be free of the shell, I was happy to oblige it and gently put it overboard. The shell now contains a small plant requiring no soil, just an occasional misting now and then.





Many people think it odd that I get up early on my days off to work on a shrimp boat. At times, I have to be at the dock by 3:45 AM. There is no air conditioning on this boat, and the summers in Georgia are hot and humid. Then there is the other extreme…cold! The Tuesday before Christmas 2004 I had to be at the dock by 5:30 AM, and the temperature when we left the dock a few minutes later was 27 degrees (F). There is nothing else like being out on the water and waiting to see what will be brought up in the nets on the next drag. Even if I come home without any seashells, I am fortunate still just to have been shrimping one more time. Till the next drag…

Picture taken by M. Mike Morett

For questions or comments, email me at or

Cecilia Morett, Wilmington Island
Near Savannah, GA USA