Your Guide to Seashell Hunting on Topsail Island

Hunting seashells on the pristine beaches of Topsail Island, North Carolina is a time-honored past-time. With miles of pristine beaches, inlets, estuaries, salt marshes, and strong currents, serious seashell hunters have known for years that to explore the beaches of Topsail Island is a real treat. Here's everything you need to know to have a successful day hunting for seashells.

Discover the Seashells of Topsail Island 

There are literally hundreds, even thousands of different shells that you can find along the shores of Topsail Island. Some shells are more rare than others, but all are beautiful in their own way. While we can't show you every shell you might find, here are a few of the types of shells you'll want to keep an eye out for during your Topsail Island beach vacation. So grab a bucket and a shovel, throw on some sunscreen, and a bottle of water and let's get ready to hunt for some seashells. 

Olive Shells

These small gems feature long conical tubes. You'll recognize them by their distinctive spirals and long openings. If you look at these shells carefully, they'll feature dark purple and pink shades. Olive shells have interesting and unique geometric designs which makes them highly collectible. Olive shells are rarely more than three inches long. 

Tip- Shells that feature a distinct pattern and bright coloring likely indicate you've found a fresh shell. A fresh shell is one that has not been in the water long.

Queen Helmet Conch

When you think of the traditional conch you're picturing the Queen Helmet Conch. The distinctive characteristic of this shell is its large fat and conical shape. Conches can be up to twelve inches long and are actually rather heavy for their size. You'll recognize its large opening and pinkish red lips which feature hard white teeth. This shell is a rare treasure and the prize of any seashell collector. 

Tip-Don't forget to bring a bucket or mesh bag to keep your shells in. A small shovel or rake can be a big help during your hunt. 

The Scotch Bonnet

These shells feature a distinctive white color accented with brown specks. The shell is often described as small but fat. The Scotch Bonnet is one of the more rare shells found on Topsail Island. It's only about two inches in length, so their size makes them even harder to find. If you find a Scotch Bonnet, you've discovered a real Topsail Island treasure.

Fun Fact- The Scotch Bonnet is the official seashell of North Carolina!


Whelks- Whelks are often confused with the Conch, but they're a unique and different type of shell. Whelks feature a distinctive conical shape and a wide opening. On the tops of the Whelk you'll find wide spirals. These shells are very common along the shores of Topsail Island and, in fact, along the entire East Coast of North Carolina. 

Whelks come in three varieties all with specific characteristics.The largest of the three is the Lightning Whelk which can be over fifteen inches or larger. 

The Channeled Whelk is named for its distinctive deep grooves or spirals. 

The Knobbed Whelk is the same as the Lightning Whelk but with an opening on the opposite side. Finding a large Whelk is a great find and one that is sure to give you bragging rights on the beach. 

Five Tips To Help You Find The Perfect Seashells

Beachcombing is a fun activity that everyone in the family can enjoy, and with these few tips, you can increase your chances of finding those truly special shells that every collector wants. Just remember, you can't find what you don't look for, so be patient and spend lots of time on the beach!

1. The night is your friend- Make sure to hit the beach at night, especially if there is a strong low tide predicted. Full moons are especially great for hunting for seashells as the full moon increases the tidal action. Another great benefit is at night there are fewer beachcombers to compete with.

2. Dig in the seaweed and seagrass- People tend to avoid piles of seaweed and seagrass that wash up on shore. However, for the avid seashell hunter, this is a big mistake. Seaweed and seagrass are great at hiding shells that others might have overlooked. Take some time to shake those piles of seaweed. You never know what might fall out. 

3. Seek out piers- Don't overlook the piers! The piers pilings help create new and continually changing wave and sand patterns which are ideal for the beachcomber who is looking for a different location to hunt for shells. Remember, along the piers you may have to dig a bit deeper in the sand but it will be worth it. 

4. Low tides are the best tides- The best time to search for shells is at the peak of low tide. Because much more of the beach is exposed you'll have more places to explore. The other benefit is that the strong tidal action helps churn up otherwise undiscoverable shells. 

5. Avoid the sounds- Sounds are generally not the best place to find shells. Because of the lack of wave action you'll see fewer shells in shallow sound waters. Remember, waves and tidal action are a seashell hunters friend. 

Tip-All of these tips and tricks are also helpful when searching for sand dollars or sea glass

All there is left to do to begin your Topsail Island seashell hunting vacation is to give one of our reservationists a call at 910-328-3400 or click the button below to begin planning your beach vacation. See you on the beach!

Do you have a secret spot to hunt for seashells on Topsail Island? Let us know and leave a comment below. 

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