Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shell Dippers

I know I've mentioned this before, but this morning I share an interesting bit of Ocracoke island trivia. Whelks and conchs come in both right-handed & left-handed versions, depending on which side the opening is on.

If you look at this knobbed whelk in any shell book (the photo below is from Wikipedia), it will be identified as a right-handed shell, by far the most common configuration.

Ocracokers, on the other hand (pun intended!) will call this a left-handed whelk.

The reason? In the days before our municipal water system (which was constructed in the mid 1970s) all drinking water on the island was collected from rain water in cisterns. In addition to a hand pump attached to the cistern, most islanders kept two shells nearby, one right-handed, and one left-handed. As you can see from the photo above, this shell would serve beautifully as a dipper for a left-handed person. Hence, it was identified as a left-handed whelk.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is another tribute to the memory of islander and independent spirit Don Wood. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news062110.htm.


  1. One May a large shell of pinks and whites literaly washed right up to my feet. I didnt think conchs were found near ocracoke. Are there pink whelks?

  2. Pat, Conchs and whelks wash up on Ocracoke's beach regularly, although most are broken. I intended to make a photo of one of the shells I had found, but my camera batteries were dead...so it was easier to get the photo from Wikipedia. We have knobbed whelks, channeled whelks, and a number of other species. Some are pinkish, some striped. Black shells are very old, and have been buried many years (the reason they've turned black).

  3. Anonymous10:34 AM

    when rain water was collected did folks filter it in an way a drop of bleach a drop of fluoride did ou boil it prior to drinking please a story of cisterns. I think far too many people take tap water for granted. but then some urban water systems have a lot to be desired. Hey Culligan man...... an photos of the cistern collection Tanks??

  4. we have lots of nice grey and black ones. My goal has been to find a star fish but that has no happened

  5. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Always interesting to hear an Ocracoker's take on matters such as this!

  6. One of these days I will write more about cisterns and Ocracoke drinking water. It will probably be a monthly newsletter. Keep looking.