The best time to find lots of shells on the beaches of southwest Florida is after a storm coming from the Gulf Of Mexico – which is exactly what happened last weekend when Tropical Storm/Hurricane Hermine came through.
We never know exactly when or where the shells will start washing in after the storm leaves town but theres nothing more fun than hunting for them high and low. This is also the time to meet lots of other fun-loving shellers on the hunt for those amazing treasures that roll up on our beaches.
… And in the water when it calms.
… And anywhere in between.
Errrrr but wait. There may be something more fun than searching for them… Finding them.
This type of excitment is exactly what happened at the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach by the fishing pier last weekend. It’s what we shellers wait for and dream about!
Earlier this week the seas calmed from the storm and the shells weren’t as easy to find so Clark and I headed south towards Marco to explore the outer islands by boat.
OMG Super Sheller Clark hit the shellmongus jackpot… 2 gorgeous HORSE CONCHS! Thank you Tropical Storm Hermine for stirring up the Gulf Of Mexico just a tad without doing any damage to anything or anyone. You left such beautiful gifts of the sea for us.
Holy Cowrie, I made it on the cover of Sanibel/Captiva local newspaper thanks to Islander news reporter Anita Force Marshall (CLICK HEREfor the full story). I’m so honored! We’ve been on a wild ride since the official National Seashell Day so I’m very sorry I haven’t been posting as frequently lately but I promise to make it up to you very soon after the big day… June 20. It’s soon!
PS- We had a blast on our iLoveShelling cruise to Big Hickory last week and I still need to show you some of the cool things we found…. that’s coming up next.
Shelling is beach therapy. I love a long walk along the water’s edge searching for wildlife and picking up a few beautiful shells.
Yesterday at Sanibel’s Bowmans Beach, the crowds disappeared as we walked passed the families set up for their beach day with umbrellas, coolers and beach chairs. The further we walked, the quieter my mind became. Everything else on the planet slipped away other than seeing a big wide open beach with shells, sand, water and sky.
Then the trance began. It’s like I’m being hypnotized each time I’m at the beach when I hear the waves wash up on the sand with jingle of shells rolling back and forth.
When I walk along the shell line from a recent higher tide I’m searching for shapes, textures and colors of the shells I know so well. Aha! A SHARK’S EYE hidden among the ARKS, KITTENS PAWS and VENUS CLAMS.
There are days when the shells are piled high or washing up at your feet in droves but long walks like Clark and I took yesterday are my absolute favorite. It’s what keeps me going back time and time again. It’s my beach therapy.
Amazingly enough when we got back, I got a little surprise in my email inbox. I’m in a short little film about shelling! I was asked in an interview back in February about what I love about shelling. Well…. everything actually! But then it all boiled down to how it makes me feel- I’m just so dang happy when I’m on the beach and shelling takes my mind to another galaxy. It makes me appreciate how beautiful this life is. It’s just that simple. The Beaches Of Fort Myers and Sanibel did an A-MAZING job on this film and I am over the moon shell, humbled and honored that I was asked to participate in it.
I hope you enjoy!
PS- Oh and yes- That’s Elliot Sudal (Shelliot- heehee ) in the film too. See? I told you he isn’t just a fisherman, he’s a sheller! CLICK HERE to read my post about him.
Oh yes I did… and I reeled her in from about 500 yards from the beach.
I may have reeled it in but…. Okay, to be fair… my friend Elliot Sudal- aka – “The Shark Wrestler” did everything else.
Now don’t think because Elliot’s been named “The Shark Wrestler” and “The Shark Wrangler” by national press like National Geographic, CNN, Fox News and ABC News that catching this beast is “mean” or dangerous for the SHARK. He’s a SHARK conservationist.
Elliot is part of a research team that tags SHARKS for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since 1962, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)Cooperative Shark Tagging Program (CSTP) has been a tagging study for shark and ray species in the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic Ocean to better understand their movement patterns, abundance, when/where they use coastal habitats, what distances they migrate and where they migrate to. Once he catches a SHARK, he tags, measures and records valuable information for NOAA’s scientific research then releases the SHARK back into the water all within just a few minutes.
Tagging SHARKS is an excellent way to study their habits to help ensure balance in the ocean’s ecosystem… so why not have fun doing it! Check out this Fox Connecticut video interview with Elliot having fun catching and tagging SHARKS … CLICK HERE
So what’s this got to do with shelling? Well, he might look a little familiar since he is one of the captains on our Captiva Cruises shelling tripsto Cayo Costa- remember the Shellphone guy (CLICK HERE)? Yes, he’s a sheller too and laughs every time he finds a nice shell like the BANDED TULIP in his cast net.
Clark and I were shelling at Blind Pass Sanibel one evening and ran into Elliot setting up his reels for a night of SHARK fishing. Before I even got to reel in that awesome LEMON SHARK, Elliot had already done a lot of work to get the bait in place.
He wrangles bait fish like this SHEEPSHEAD by cast net.
He also throws a few smaller rods out to catch fish like this LADYFISH to put on a circle hook (the preferred hook for marine conservation) with gobs of heavy duty line…
Then he paddled his kayak out to the deeper water around 500 yards out while friend CJ Floyd watches the line.
So don’t worry! This line with the bait is nowhere near where we are shelling in the water. He paddles it waaaay out.
I’ve gotta tell ya, this is one of the most amazing things Ive ever experienced. Finding a JUNONIA is truly a spectacsheller moment but feeling the exhilaration of Mother Nature’s most incredible creatures tugging on the other end of this fishing pole was FINtastic! I caught a SPINNER SHARK too but that one got away. Just after Clark snapped this photo, that fella shook the hook.
But that’s ok because the next bite was my 7 foot LEMON SHARK. Can you believe it? And yes, in person you can see that there is a yellow tinge to her… hence the name “Lemon”. (Thats for you, Rachel… heehee xo)
Elliot tagged her…
Along with CJ, they measured and recorded her…
Then Elliot safely released her back into the water.
I got to fill out all of the valuable information to send off to NOAA … and I got to name her! Her new name?
Hahaha … and of course I had to see what she would look like with some JUNONIA spots on her- LOL
Okay y’all… I don’t want you to freak out about SHARKS being in the areas where we are looking for shells. First of all, most SHARKS Elliot catches are at dusk or later at night so most of us aren’t shelling off shore at those times. Secondly, the odds of you getting eaten by a SHARK are slim to none (and “Slim” just left town- as Clark would say). SHARKS are very smart creatures and humans aren’t what SHARKS want for dinner.
SHARKS have gotten such a bad reputation since the movie Jaws so I know that some people have a deep fear and/or concern for SHARKS so let me answer some of the questions you may have.
Yes- SHARKS live in the waters of Southwest Florida. We love to see all types of Sealife in the Gulf Of Mexico and we shouldn’t feel like it’s taboo to talk about SHARKS being there too. They are an important part of our healthy environment that we need to respect and protect.
Yes- It is safe to swim in the Gulf Of Mexico. Honestly, I was a little afraid to write this post because I didn’t want people afraid of the water. If you know the truth about SHARKS then you will respect them more without being afraid of the “unknowing”. Knowledge is power. So if you look at the statistics of only 9 SHARK fatalities in Florida from 1959-2010, hopefully you will still respect SHARKS but will understand the safe odds you have with SHARKS when you go for a dip in the water in Florida. As George Burgess, curator of the world shark attack data housed at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History says “beachgoers are far more likely to win the lottery than to (unintentionally) encounter a shark”. For more statistics – check out Florida Museum Of Natural History
And here are a few fun facts about SHARKS to sink your teeth into…
Sharks have cruised the ocean for 400 million years.
Sharks were on the planet 100 millions years before dinosaurs.
Lemon sharks can lose a whole set of teeth, one by one, every 10 days.
Lemon sharks like Jawnonia can give birth up to 17 pups in one litter.
There are more than 450 species of sharks throughout the ocean
So now if you are on the beach looking for shells and you come across fishermen with kayaks and lots of poles, you can feel better about ducking around their fishing lines if they are out there tagging sharks for research conservation. Especially if you run in to Elliot- because he knows better than plopping his gear down right in the middle of the only big shell pile in miles (oh yes, I’ve seen that happen more than once with other fishermen- grrrrr). We all have our reasons we want to spend time on the beach so it’s fun for all of us to learn something new about the other creatures in the sea.
Thank you Elliot for teaching me so much about SHARKS and for letting me be part of such an amazing experience! You can follow Elliot @acksharks on Instagram or ElliotSudal on Facebook to see what SHARK adventures he is up to as he “Shark Wrestles” each winter on Sanibel and summers on Nantucket. And a special thanks to Rachel Fields for being so much fun and hanging out with us and taking photos of “my catch”. I’m usually the one behind the camera so thank you so much for sending those great photos to me!
OH WAIT! And…. Elliot is going to be on Nat Geo! He is starring in an upcoming television episode of a new reality show called The Raft airing every Sunday at 10pm eastern time (9pm central) from April 5 to May 3, 2015.
This was my summer project … Secret Mission: Shellnado Transformation into Shellaboratory .
Our shell collection used to look like a shellnado hit it head on! So I finally organized the thousands of shells Clark and I have picked up over the years to learn about the different species of shells and beach blingthat wash up on our shores of Southwest Florida.
We collect not only the pretty or most colorful shells, we collect different color forms, freaks and not-so-attractive shells and “bling” to learn about their lives in the Gulf of Mexico. Its an educational experience for us as well as a hobby to appreciate the beautiful qualities each shell has to offer.
I always wanted to have an organized craft room for the many art projects I’ve created over the years. But… I’ve always had a few obstacles. I get scatterbrained. I get so excited when an idea for a project pops into my brain. I turn into a mad scientist thinking up all the fun stuff I can create but my crazy mind never pays attention to the clean up details during or after my “work of art” is complete. Organizing has always taken too much time away from the actual “fun” project… until now!
Yes, this was fun! It all started as I needed a space for those big shells I painted to decorate the Junonia Jalopy for the Golf Cart Parade. They were crammed behind some Christmas boxes in the garage from last year. See? I never even put the Christmas stuff up because I was on to the next project. Those poor painted shells were getting bumped, bent and covered with dust. Geez! I worked hours on those things and I didn’t even have time to put them away properly. That got me started thinking about “decorating” my Shellaboratory with them.
Of course, I should use them to decorate!
Then I measured my space for shelving which was the perfect excuse to make several road trips to Ikea for adjustable book shelves and storage containers. I love Ikea. I finally had a space to display all the jars I’ve been saving for years to one day to use for a job like this… but I still needed more. I shopped discount stores, dollar stores, thrift stores and yard sales to find different sized jars or tubs so I could see each type of shell. I even found a place to put my Shelly Temple dress (just in case I ever want to sing “On the Good Beach, Sanibel” again?).
After building the shelves and finding homes for my containers, my next project was to sort… and sort… and sort. This was the part that was oh-so fun! I found shells that brought me back to the exact day I found it. I spent hours upon hours organizing and I felt like only 5 minutes went by- just like shelling on the beach.
Each time I found a WORM SHELL, I said the same thing I say when I find one on the beach… “Wormie!”. Yep, I now have enough that I can make a few more WORM SHELL frames now too.
I’m still not done sorting but I separated the room so one area is dedicated to displaying BEACH BLING for the different types of SEA BEANS, ECHINODERMS, EGG CASINGS and all that cool sort of bling…
I’ve started one area dedicated to BIVALVES…
and another area for GASTROPODS (uhk- I’m not fond of that word – ewww- lets call them UNIVALVES, shall we?)
If you noticed I wasn’t on the beach every single day the last few months… No- I wasn’t taking a shellbatical.
I was being a shellab rat in my own Shellaboratory!