John Timmerman and Amy Dick at the N.C. Shell Club meeting on Ocracoke in March. Photo: P. Vankevich

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Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

Shell collecting has been a life-long passion for Amy Dick which started as a teenager with beach-combing forays with her mother.  

From Smithfield, Va., she has kept good records over the years and may have come up with the most significant find of her life during the two-day North Carolina Shell Club spring meeting held at the Ocracoke Community Center the weekend of March 24.

Although Ocracoke beach has an excellent reputation for shell collecting, the nearly 50 members attending this yearly meeting were more interested in Saturdays Portsmouth Island excursion. 

Due to its closeness to the Gulf Stream, isolation and long expansive beaches and dunes, shell collecting on Portsmouth Island can be extraordinary. 

Subfossil of a Scaphella junonia

“Within 15 minutes of getting off the boat, I noticed a very unusual shape in the sand beneath some shrubs,” Dick said. “When I pulled it out, I knew it was something very unusual.”

Club member John Timmerman, who chairs the annual shell show, identified it as a sub-fossil of a Scaphella junonia, which has two common names, the junonia and Juno’s volute.

A sub-fossil is a specimen that’s not fully fossilized.

“It’s a super find for North Carolina,” he said while examining the grayish brown shell.  Live junonias are white with large, rich brown spots. 

“They live in deep water throughout their entire range and are usually found by sponge and scuba divers and pulled in by deep water trawlers,” Timmerman said. “So, to find one on the beach is extraordinary.” 

Everett Long, club president, said this shell is from Florida and most likely followed the Gulf Stream up here many years ago

Dick’s shell was awarded the “super find” of the meeting.

After feasting on chili, shrimp and lots of desserts, the Friday evening kick-off featured islander and former director of the Ocracoke Preservation Society, Amy Howard.

She talked about the unusual finds on her many beach walks over the years.

Some of the highlights were an old machine gun casing, a few chunks of coal probably from steam ships and interesting pieces of glass.

Both evenings featured silent auctions to bid on unusual shells collected throughout the world. Saturday’s gathering featured taking shell measurements.

Ed Shuller, Everett Long and John Timmerman measure one of Long’s shells for a possible state size record.

Members Ann Sommers and Brady Semmel received new state records for shells they had found in the state, though not on this trip.

Sommers, of Centreville, Va., got a state record for a true tulip and Semmel brought 21 shells to the meeting and left with 20 state records.

“Everything one could ask for was wrapped up in our first meeting of the year,” said Long about the island trip. “Beautiful weather, smooth seas, great friendship, new members, great chili (which is the featured entree both nights) great speakers and good shelling.”

Members and guests came from Ocracoke and as far as Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Winston-Salem.

The North Carolina Shell Club formed in 1957. In 1964, they nominated and successfully campaigned to make the Scotch Bonnet North Carolina’s official State Shell.

It describes itself as a friendly and enthusiastic organization where people of all levels of expertise, ranging from beginner to professional, can meet and share knowledge and information about the fascinating world of shells.

They were indeed a fun group that loves to share their passion and knowledge of shells with beginners.

To visit the N.C Shell Club’s website, click here.

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