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When is the best time to go shelling?

By Staff | May 25, 2017

Although January, February and March are some of the best months to go shelling on Sanibel and Captiva, Stefanie Wolf, a marine biologist at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, said that because of the high winds the islands have been experiencing this spring, now is an opportune time to go shelling.

“The shelling has been a amazing. There’s massive shell piles out there right now,” Wolf said.

Some of the best times to go shelling is during low tide or after a storm. (Winds need to be 25 mph or higher.)

“Your a.m. low tide will be better than your p.m. because if you’re the first one out in the morning, you’ll be getting those shells that have freshly washed ashore,” Wolf said.

As for beaches, Wolf said no particular beach is necessarily better than the other but she does have two favorites.

“Blind Pass is a great spot because you have that strong tidal current that runs there so I find a lot of junonias and other great shells. I also suggest the lighthouse because it’s really shallow. The lighthouse is also good for “minis.” What I mean by that is small gastropods like bubble shells, limpets, top snails and wentletraps,” Wolf said.

One of the reasons Sanibel is abound with shells is because of the direction in which it lies: Sanibel runs east and west while most islands run north and south; this geographical feature allows the island to catch many different varieties of shells. Wolf said that some of the most sought-after shells are lion’s paws, junonias, scotch bonnets, alphabet cones and banded tulips.

“Junonias and lion’s paws are found in deeper water so it’s the strong winds that bring them to shore,” Wolf said.

One thing to keep in mind while shelling is that there is no live shelling in Lee County. That ban also includes echinoderms like sand dollars, sea urchins and sea stars.

Wolf’s best advice to those on the hunt for the perfect shell is to remember that the conditions are different from day to day.

“The currents, tides and the direction of the wind are constantly changing,” Wolf said. “I always encourage people to never think the beach is over picked or that you’re not going to find anything higher up on the beach.”

To identify some of the common shells that are found in Southwest Florida, go to shellmuseum.org/shells/southwest-florida-shells.