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Seashells of the Eastern Shore

Posted by Shorebread | Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Seashell collecting is a past-time of many individuals that visit the Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia coastlines. Shells are commonly found on the shore, deposited along tide marks in the sand. Empty, clean shells tumble in the tides for days, weeks, or months before washing ashore. Beachcombers are quick to pick up empty shells and add them to their collections.

Seashells have been admired, studied, classified, and used for many different purposes throughout time. On the Eastern Shore, we are lucky to have such a wide selection of shells to view, examine, and enjoy. Thousands of seashells wash up on the beaches of the Eastern Shore every day. The best time to scour the beach for seashells is early in the morning, after a storm, or when there is a drastic low tide.

Listed below are a few times of local shells that you're likely to find in the Ocean City area:


Cockle Shell: 

Cockle is the common name for small, edible, salt water clams. The clams that leave behind these shells live in sandy, sheltered beaches across the world. The Cockle shells found in our area are typically white, ridged, and symmetrical.

Sharks Eye Snail Shell:

Sharks Eye Snails are predatory sea snails. Their shells feature a flattened, globular shape. Typically, Sharks Eye shells are brownish grey in color. The center of the shell resembles and eye.

Scallop Shell:

Scallop shells can be found in every ocean across the world. Scallops are a delicious and have beautiful shells. These fan-shaped shells are brightly colored and have a deep ridges. 

More recently, our local populations of Bay Scallops have diminished rapidly. It is believe that the loss of sea grasses due to impeding coastal development is to blame.


Jingle shells are also referred to as 'Mermaid's Toenails' because of their luminous coloring and shape. These thin, and often translucent, shells are easily breakable. They are typically a rusty color, dark grey, or opalescent.

Mermaids Purse:

Mermaids Purses are actually egg cases. These hard black shells surround the fertilized eggs of skates and sharks. Usually the egg cases that wash up on the beach are empty; the fish most likely already have developed and emerged from the shells.


Whelk shells, sometimes referred to as conch shells incorrectly, is a remnant of a sea snail. These shells are hard to find washed up on the shores of Ocean City, Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach, or other nearby public beaches. Whelks are commonly found in the knee-deep breaking waves at Assateague Island.

Surf Clam Shell:

Atlantic Surf Clam shells are the most common shells found on the Eastern Shore. This bivalve mollusk feeds off of sediment on the bottom of the ocean and bay floors. Some surf clam shells grow to be as large as 6-8".

Atlantic Clams, also known as Quahogs, have a deep purple color to them - often found on the inside of the shells. Shells with deep purple shades were used by Native Americans to make jewelry, beads, and accessories. Native Americans referred to these pieces as Wampums.


Have you ever found any rock-like objects like this on the beach before? This may be coral, a dried shell of deceased coral formations from the ocean floor. This hard skeleton is created of calcium carbonate from the underwater life form. Rocks covered in barnacles often resemble coral, too.

Happy shell hunting!

Photos by Ami Reist

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