Whelk ©Paul Naylor


Scientific name: Buccinum undatum
The common whelk is the largest sea snail found in UK seas, though you're more likely to find the dry balls of empty whelk egg capsules washed up in strandlines.

Species information


Length: 5-10cm

Conservation status


When to see

January to December


The common whelk lives on sandy seabeds below the low tide mark. It is the largest sea snail found in our seas and therefore the largest snail shell you are likely to find on our beaches. It lays its eggs in a spongy mass of up to 2000 egg capsules on the seabed. Once hatched, these balls of empty egg capsules often wash up on shore.
The common whelk is carnivorous and feeds on worms and other molluscs, often using the edge of its own shell to prize open other shells. It also scavenges for carrion, which it finds by smell.

How to identify

Common whelks are the largest sea snail, with conical shells reaching 10cm in length. When empty, the shell is cream coloured, though when alive it is covered with a thin brownish layer called a periostracum. The shell surface is covered in a pattern of wavy folds. The common whelk is much larger than the dog whelk, not as coarsely ribbed as the Netted Whelk and more rounded than the oyster drill.


Found all around our coasts.

Did you know?

Empty Whelk shells are often used as homes by large hermit crabs!

How people can help

When rockpooling, be careful to leave everything as you found it - replace any rocks you turn over, put back any crabs or fish and ensure not to scrape anything off its rocky home.