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Collecting seashells on the beaches of Sanibel, Captiva and the world

Shelling 101

seashells from Sanibel wrack lines shelling 101

I grew up in Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my toes in the sand. My whole life has circled around playing on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf Of Mexico so I can’t remember how I learned about tides, currents, sand dunes or how I first learned where to look to find the best shells. I feel like this information was already embedded in my brain the day I was born, so I sometimes assume that other folks that love the beach have this information too. While on our iLoveShelling cruise to Cayo Costa on Saturday, I was asked a perfectly good question from a lovely woman which threw me for a loop…. “Can you explain Shell Lines?”. “Well… they are lines of shells” I said. I often write about wrack lines, shell lines, the surf line and so on because I assume everybody knows what I’m talking about. She said “I was born and raised in land locked U.S. so I’m really not sure exactly where to look”. This was an “Aha Moment” for me. Ohhhhhh- I’ve never really explained what a wrack line is and how it forms, have I. Since my mind went into a sort of panic, I didn’t even get her name but I wish I could thank her for bringing that to my attention!  

landscape of gulf side city park sanibel

So I went to Gulfside City Park this morning at low tide to try to explain the many different ways you can find shells on each different part of the beach. I combed each area of the beach to show how many shell lines, wrack lines and tidal pools can be productive for shelling. 

swash Shell wrack lines on Sanibel beach

Instead of just taking photos, I shot a video to explain each area and to show what types of shells I found in each area. I hope it makes a little more sense to you and understand how I can get caught up with finding minis and why I love my BEACH BLING so much. It’s a little long, so grab a drink and get relaxed and enjoy the ultimate CYBERSHELLING with me… Oh and PS- You’ll find a few of the shells I found in this video displayed in the first photo on this post. I lost a few in the shuffle like that little tiny sweet “AUGER”.

And PS again- that little shell I found under the seaweed and got so excited about isn’t called a PAINTED PERIWINKLE (oops!)… its called a LINED TREE SNAIL.


  1. Oh wow Pam! Thanks for that wonderful video that was absolutely perfect. I now have a better understanding of the beach landscape, I just love the little minis that you found. I arrive on Saturday for two weeks and I cannot wait to be on the hunt for shells. I hope that I will run in to you. You have such joy finding your shells…almost like it is the first time every time. How delightful :)

  2. Great video, Pam! Very informative. I’ve been shelling on a number of different beaches when we vacation and have always wondered about the “how” of shell deposits. Makes sense that different shells are carried to different sections of the beach- maybe surging waves carry the lighter shells farther up while the retreating tides deposit the larger, heavier shells. We recently vacationed on Hutchinson Island (Atlantic coast)– nothing as spectacular as Sanibel but I found 3 ram’s horn spirulas the first day on the high wrack line in the late afternoon. Never found another.

  3. High tide, low tide, you never really know when the shells will drop. Mother Ocean always keeps us guessing!

  4. What a great video. I was at Gulfside on Tuesday. You can probably still see my footprints on the upper parts of the beach. I was zig-zagging back and forth from the water to the upper areas. I found in the water a tiny(1/2 inch) turkey wing! There were a lot of pen shells too. Has Blind pass gotten any shell piles?

  5. I loved your video also and learned a lot. But, my question is, “How do you know when those egg cases are empty? Are they really loose feeling or something? ” Cause you said sometimes you might find one left in there…Or, maybe, when it is full, not hatched, it feels tighter, like a pine cone?

  6. Loved the video. Yesterday at Blind Pass, as the tide went out, there were oodles of shells rolling up at the waterline. I mentioned to a gentleman sheller, “so many shells”! He responded, “My brain can’t think this fast”!

  7. Thank you so much for this information….coming from the Midwest all the information that is second nature to you is like Greek to me. This helped clear up some of the questions I’ve had and was very helpful. It came at a perfect time seeing I will be there for my first visit in about 2 weeks. Thanks again!

  8. you never say enough: thank you . very appreciate

    • I have sometime problem with Google translate…I think it’s suppose to be like this: we never say anough , thank you..I want tell you a BIG THANK :)

      • Martine, u r so sweet to send me ur special big thank you. I understood loud and clear sweetie and I want to send YOU a big THANK YOU too. Xoxo

  9. Thanks Pam, I got to go video shelling this morning. Love that beach, wish I were there :-)

  10. Two good books that also help you know where to look for shells…
    The Sanibel Kaleidoscope books by Harlan Wittkopf (sold all over on Sanibel) have lots of pictures and text about the different parts of the beach. Another book called The Art of Shelling is good too.

    Sometimes we have done very well with VERTICAL lines of drift. I experienced this in New Jersey and recently for five days in North Texas…areas where it looks like someone stood at the surfline with a bucket of shells and shell grit and heaved it at a right angle to the surfline, up the beach as far as they could. These lines would be discontinous but often repeat all along the beach, running vertically from low in the beach upwards for a few feet or several yards…. In each case they were full of wentletraps and other small shells.

    PS your tiny augur from the end of the video might be a Turbonilla. I couldnt tell because i only watched the small screen video. But it had the shape…longer and more slender for its size than an auger.

    To see lined tree snails live, go the Sanibel lighthouse boardwalk during or after a rain.

  11. Pam – you missed a Lightning Whelk in the first tidal pool! :) Oh, I wish I was there shelling right now. Love this post!


    • Margaret- OMG I missed it! I must have been messing with the camera or something- geez. hahah

  12. From cold and snowy Northeast Ohio, wrapped up in a throw, thank you for a delightful and informative shelling tutorial!

  13. forgot to ask…what exactly is a ‘sea pearl’? and could you elaborate on ‘tiny shells in egg casings’. How exactly do they form?

    • Hi Lynn, you are welcome! its my pleasure.

      For Sea Pearl info go to
      For egg casings info go to

      I love learning things about the sea and I love to write posts about things I have learned over the years and have captured with my camera to share my experiences. I have tried to categorize everything on my blog so its easily accessible when questions come up. Just so you know how I put all of these posts together so quickly about your questions… Take a look at the left hand side of this blog and scroll down to “Categories”. There you can find just about every post I have ever written about each of those subjects in the list of Categories. Cool, huh? You will be amazed at how much info is there! :)

  14. Wonderful posting, Pam! Thanx so much. You did such a great job handling the camera as you spoke and shelled. And your finger-pointer was right on. Hope to spot you on the beach when I finally get to Sanibel in a couple of weeks. It’s been a very snowy winter up north, and I can’t wait to feel and warmth and hear the water lapping the sand.

  15. Having survived another blast of winter’s bounty here in Ohio, taking a walk on the beach with you today was just what I needed. Sometimes I just skip the weather report from here and tune into WINK News and listen to your weather. Makes me feel better. Ha.

  16. Hi Pam! My family and I are going to Destin / Miramar Beach, Florida this summer, not Sanibel Island sadly, :'( but are there any places nearby that is good for shelling?

    We actually were in Sanibel Island last October and my friend and I got totally hooked on shelling while there!

    • Sorry Christina, I haven’t been shelling there.

      • I have been to Destin a few times over the past 20 years. From my experience there aren’t a lot of shells on the beaches. But as Pam often points out, beaches change. I did find some shells. The ones I found were like treasures to me. I still had fun shelling. Also, the beaches and the water in Destin are absolutely gorgeous!

  17. Haven’t been to Sanibel in over a year- thanks for the 15 minutes of “shelling” :) Sure do miss my Island!

  18. Love the video…repeating others on weather, but after 12 inches of snow and -10 over night…I miss MY island. All the Sanishellers seem to claim this precious island as their own special place. That is alright, I can share.

  19. Thank you, Pam, for the cyber shelling opportunity. With the many snow, ice, sleet storms almost every week up here in NJ. I really appreciate the chance to relive my shelling walks on Sanibel and Manasota Key beaches. Helps to cope with these horrendous stormy and sub zero days!

  20. Pam,
    There is a common theme running thru these posts….and hope you are not tired of hearing it….cause here is another one!
    THANK YOU, for the 15 minutes of Sanibel fun! It is a nice break from the snow, ice, and bone chilling below Zero weather.
    THANK YOU, Pam, for taking YOUR precious TIME to share the shells of Sanibel with all of us!

  21. Hey, that was really cool video Pam! I agree with Steve R that what looked like a teeny tiny white augur that you found was almost certainly a fully-grown Turbonilla. There are many species… here is one example:

    In fact I can hear those teeny tiny micro shells calling out to you Pam! That’s another whole world of shells waiting to be explored…

    • Thanks Susan H! I think y’all are right! When I saw it, I knew it was different so I wanted to inspect it when I got home….but…. gone. it wasn’t with my other shells. I’m sure it fell in-between my fingers when I was picking up other stuff. grrrrr. but i will find another one when I go back to look at that “whole other world”. It was just too dang fun to show how there are so many ways to find shells. I could could spend days one end in one little stretch of beach. I went to Blind Pass yesterday and yes, those micros were calling my name! i went back to look for more boring turrets (i found plenty more) and there were soooooooo many micros you would have been in heaven.

      • Ooooo, sounds really great! You know I love those micros! I might suggest you keep a plastic vial in your pocket, or a flip-top vial hanging on a string off your belt or something, so you have a place to put something like that Turbonilla. As they go, that was a big one — might have been World Record Size one, ha ha!!

        • Hahaha I think it was world record size! It was the one that got away.

  22. These videos are so inspiring. It always makes me happy to watch the little shelling clips you give us, Pam! I feel like I am down in Sanibel with all the beauties of the ocean instead of land-locked up here. So glad it was warm enough to go in the water that day!
    Prayers, L.

  23. Oh My! this is what inspires me! Thank YOU all for writing such sweet comments about the cybershelling! Its all worth it when I hear your words. So…. I went to Lighthouse Beach this morning and…. Yes! I filmed another CYBER SHELLING VIDEO for y’all! it takes a while to download and then upload but I think you’ll like this one and if I didn’t warm all of your bones in the cold north with that other video, I’ll try to warm you up tonight (…or tomorrow morning) with another vid.

    Oh and Marie…. Sanibel belongs to all of us! It’s our special island for so many different reasons. xo

    • After saying I can share…meant to thank you for sharing OUR special island with us. But my battery gave up the ghost. Look forward so much to each addition to your site. Check several times a day. If I find nothing new, I go back and check out some of the ones that come up under the shell list. My favs or some less familiar so I will be ready for the next beach search. Working on cockles.

  24. Ah, periwinkle! Every day I pass two streets, one after the other. They are named Periwinkle and Bowman. this is in Glen Allen, VA. Do ya think the developer was a big fan of Sanibel? So today I got to thinking about Periwinkle Way. I can’t say I’ve ever found a Periwinkle on Sanibel, so it makes me wonder why the main drag wasn’t named after a shell more commonly found on the island. Just sayin.:)

    On another note, I saw a Great Blue today, to my surprise. It’s been so cold, I would have thought that they had all gotten out of Dodge, and headed down south with all the rest of the snow birds.

    Thanks for the tutorial, Pam!

    • I remember reading somewhere that Periwinkle Way is named after the flowering plants that used to line it, not the shells…? I don’t know if that is correct though?

      • Susan H- That is correct. Periwinkle Way was name after the flower because it used to be lined with periwinkles on both sides in the early days

    • Sanibelle! Haven’t heard from u in a while…. But I thnk any street in glen Allen would have been named way before Sanibel. But I could be wrong. U just have Sanibel on ur mind, girl! U gotta get down here heehee

      • Dohhh, I forgot about the flower, periwinkle. Thanks, ladies!

        Pam, the development is probably no more than 15 years old. It’s near Wyndham if you know or Clark know the area. You are so right about Sanibel on my mind. I am starting the downsizing process. :)

  25. Thanks Pam for the video. It was so much fun to watch. I was excited to see what kind of shoes you were wearing :) I always have so much trouble trying to decide what kind of shoes to shell in. When I get in the water, I lose flip flops; when I wear water shoes, I get shells in my shoes. Just wondering what others prefer to shell in.

  26. Awesome, Awesome video! You have outdone yourself, Pam! I always struggle to pick a wrack line to walk, so this video is extremely helpful! Thank you for sharing your expertise with all of us!

  27. Enjoyed taking a walk with you and escaping for a few minutes from our winter. You must have 20/20 eyesight, you don’t miss anything. Love hearing the excitement in your voice when you find a little “candy”.

  28. I saved your video as a treat for this weekend. I laughed when I realized that my nose was almost touching the screen, and I was pointing to shells as if you could see me and would go pick them up! :-) I know I’m going to watch it over and over…thanks for taking the time to do this for us.

  29. Loved your video of the different spots at one beach to shell. It’s amazing how you don’t have to search very far if you begin finding shells. I got to do some virtual shelling, too! Thanks, Pam!

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