Beach Thing #1

Actually, when I saw this “beach slinky” I knew that I once knew what it was.

My first stab was “stingray egg case” but then I remembered those are pointy-cornered leathery pouches.

It took some memory dredging to reach the real match: this three foot strand is a whelk egg case. Each segment along the cartilaginous string would have contained a number of tiny whelks–the familiar seashells that carry the sound of the ocean when you hold them up to your ear.

Some call this odd thing a “mermaid’s necklace.” Given that a whelk is not that large, I imagine it must take some while to “lay” this strand, all the while attached at one end to the whelk. When finally released, she buries one end of it or otherwise attaches it to a substrate so it doesn’t wash ashore until the young have “hatched.”

I’d forgotten that these mollusks are edible. I’ve never eaten whelk. And through the years they have had numerous other practical uses–in jewelry, as tools, and filled with whale oil, as beach lamps.

Most whelks around the globe are “right handed.” The Gulf and Atlantic coast Lightning Whelk is left handed, and therefore considered  sacred and overseas, valuable as a trade item for its special twist.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you a “beach thing” I have not been successful identifying, and will recruit some help.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. The first time I saw one of those washed up on the beach, I thought it looked like something from outer space. They really are quite beautiful in their structure.