whelk shells beach combing north carolina

I feel like I just got back from being on the Amazing Shell Race in the Carolinas! Look at the colors of our shell-loot found on our trip to the beaches of Portsmouth Island, North Carolina. Can you believe it?

Portsmouth island North Carolina seashells

Oh yea baby, I gotta QUEEN HELMET! Errrr…. But then I’ve heard it’s also called a CLENCH HELMET or even the CAMEO HELMET. The HELMETS are always so hard to identify but what I do know is that I sprung into the air when I found it I was so excited. In the next photo, it’s sitting next to one of the many KNOBBED WHELKS we found and a SCOTCH BONNET – that’s North Carolina’s state shell.

North Carolina shells and sand dunes

We went on this trip with a bunch of other crazy shellunatic extreme shellers… Joan, Susan, George, Greg, Helen, Clark, (me) and on the front row- Carly, Hilda, Nanette, Jackie and our fabshellous leader Karen and the best shell hound ever- Roxie. We had a blast together!

Shelling trip Portsmouth Island NC

Colorful weathered shells were scattered along the beach of the entire island peaking out of rippled sand dunes and half buried by high winds and heavy surf. The LIGHTNING WHELKS look so different on the east coast than they do in Sanibel.

lightning whelk north carolina

SHARK’S EYES were mixed in with shards of broken OYSTER and SCALLOP SHELLS.

Sharks eye shell Portsmouth Island North Carolina

Most of the SCOTCH BONNETS were broken or cracked so it made it that much more fun to find a whole one… especially darkened with black or gray. The shells in the Carolinas stained with black or gray were likely darkened by iron sulfide from the sulfurous muck from years past.

Scotch Bonnet shell beach combing North Carolina

Some of the shells like this KNOBBED WHELK have a bright orange, rust, pink or brown color due to being exposed many years to iron oxide minerals in the Atlantic Ocean sediments and fade in the sunlight when washed up on the beach.

beach combing north carolina

The colors, pattern and architecture are unique to each stunning shell.

Beachcombing Portsmouth Island NC knobbed whelk shell on the beach

We found this amazing empty KNOBBED WHELK shell with almost a neon orange aperture that recently washed up maybe a few weeks before we got there.

Orange opening knobbed whelk

Our first CAMPECHE ANGEL WING shell! It’s smooth, long, thin and has that high swoop by the hinge compared to our Sanibel ANGEL WINGS.

Campeche Angel wing sea shell North Carolina NC

The internet makes the shell world even smaller… I “met” Greg Diesel about 6 years ago when he showed some of his amazing photos of shells and sunsets of North Carolina on iLoveShelling Facebook page . It was such a fun surprise to run in to him to meet in person for the first time on Portsmouth Island with his girlfriend Chrissy. We saw (well, I should rephrase- we raced passed each other haha) several times driving on the beach – they found a TUN SHELL!

Greg Diesel tun shell North Carolina

I was thrilled to find a black TUN SHELL too even though the tip was broken off- I’ll take it. Yahoo!

black tun shell portsmouth island nc
Are you sitting down? Good, because you might have fallen over after looking at NANETTE’S super-colossal (colosshell!) NORTHERN MOON SHELL.

Northern Moon snail Portsmouth Island North Carolina

She was over the MOON SHELL! It’s one of many of her spectacsheller shells…

Nanette with shells Portsmouth Island NC


North Carolina seashells

Joan’s faves were a baby QUEEN HELMET and a huge BANDED TULIP.

Joan with helmet and tulip shells

It was a total score for all of us to find a HELMET – Greg’s was absolutely perfect.

greg with queen clench helmet

How did we explore this whole island? We four-wheeled it!

Greg and Carly drove their 4-wheel drive Nissan so Jackie, Clark and I piled in to ride the beaches until we saw an area with loads of shells…. then…. “Whoooaaa! Ssssst-aaaaahhhhp!  Huuuuge WHELK!”. We all raced out of the truck to scour every inch until someone went back to get the truck to move it down the beach.  We’d just stumble on a gorgeous shell sticking halfway out of the sand – Greg named us “The Helen Shellers”. Haha- It was wild!

Four shell wheeling Portsmouth Island

How do you get to Portsmouth Island? You can only get to Portsmouth Island by boat so we took the morning passenger and car ferry from Morris Marina in Atlantic, NC and while we enjoyed the boat ride we watched a beautiful sunrise over the island. 

Ferry to Portsmouth Island NC
We stayed a couple of nights in a rustic little beach cottage not far from the ferry dock. And yes, it had electricity and hot running water-  thank goodness. Beach house Portsmouth Island NC

A special thank you to Karen (and Roxie) for organizing this amazing shelling trip for all of us- it was spectacsheller.

So… does she look familiar? Karen, Helen and Jackie were on the first Shellabaloo. They are the crazy Carolina girls! It’s so cool we have kept in touch throughout the years and shared our shelling adventures with each other.

Karen guides shelling trip to portsmouth island

Clark and I had an amazing time with everybody. (thanks to Greg Diesel for the photo)

Pam and Clark Rambo sunrise shelling trip

I hope to share more photos of our shells in another post but I still have our shelling stop in South Carolina to show you.

beach combing north carolina

So keep checking back with me here because if you think you like this place…

Whelk in the sand North Carlina shell

You’ll love our next shelling hole just as much.

sunset shell North carolina

driving on north carolina beach at sunset

Shell-love and peace.

shelling at sunset Portsmouth Island NC

Join me on a SW Florida shelling adventure…