Ask the Aquarium: When's the Best Time to Look for Shells?
BY SHERRY WHITE
Special to The Pilot
Q. When is the best time to look for shells?
A. This is a popular question at the Aquariums. In general, shelling is best an hour or so before and after low tide.
Chances of finding shells are particularly good in unpopulated areas, as well as after storms, when wind-driven waves may have deposited shells onto beaches.
Good seasons for shelling are fall, when hurricane season is under way, or early spring, when winter storms have passed and tourists have not yet begun combing beaches.
Unpopulated areas increase your chances of prize finds.
Long, open expanses of national seashores, such as Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras, offer good shelling opportunities; however, because they are protected public lands, there may be limits as to how many shells you may collect.
Uninhabited islands just offshore, or small islets in sounds, can also be good hunting grounds. Combing inlet areas, where fast-moving tides, crashing waves and strong currents often cast shells, can also be productive.
Empty shells are the exoskeletons of mollusks, such as clams, oysters, scallops and sea snails. Shell animals create their protective armor by secreting a complex composite of materials.
You'll want to make sure your shell is empty of its native inhabitant, or an interloper such as a hermit crab.
Sand dollars are always special finds. White sand dollars are skeletons of their former selves that have been bleached by the sun. Live sand dollars have greenish or brownish fuzz that is actually a layer of tiny spines the animal uses to slowly make its way through loose sand.
Collecting live specimens of plants or animals from public lands is not permitted, and collecting live specimens from any location is strongly discouraged.
When shelling, don't overlook the high tide line, the base of dunes and even low swale areas behind the dunes. Shells often get lodged there, particularly after strong storms. Also check clumps of seaweed on the beach, which can harbor small shell treasures.
Information is provided by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The state operates three public aquariums: one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island.
The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina's aquatic environment.
For more information about the Aquariums, go to www.ncaquariums.com, or call (800) 832-FISH.
Sherry White works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Aquariums.
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