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. If you want to learn more about our rockpool life, Wildlife Trusts around the UK run rockpool safaris and offer Shoresearch training - teaching you to survey your local rocky shore. The data collected is then used to protect our coasts and seas through better management or through the designation of Marine Protected Areas. The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, scientists, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.