© 1997 Rico Leffanta

Seashells can be found in abundance on most tropical islands, but Hawaiian seashells are scarce in comparison. Waikiki sees thousands of snorkelers and scuba divers every day, each one looking for that souvenir seashell, resulting in thousands of people going back to their hotel room every night without have seen one single seashell.

Of course, there are laws to protect endangered species, but every tourist seems to think, "What harm can come from my taking home one little seashell?"

The simple answer is one little seashell can hold 1,000 eggs to perpetuate the species so, when someone takes that living shell, they are taking 1,000 other shells with it! At this rate, it doesn't take very many tourists very long before "common" seashells such as the Knobby Triton (pupu'olekiwi - Cymatium muricinum Roeding) above are classified "uncommon", then "rare", "Endangered" and most finally, "extinct".

Even when the shell is empty, hermit crabs should have first choice on vacated shells!

Native Hawaiians (and local parents) need a Triton's Trumpet (Pu or Ole - Charonia tritonis Linaeus) to herald their ceremonies (or call the kids home for supper - the ole sound can be heard two miles away!), cowries to lure the octopus home for dinner, and Hawaiians use many other shells for fish hooks, musical instruments and jewellery - especially for leis!
The tiny turbinid and columbellid shell leis from "The Forbidden Island" (Ni'ihau) currently sell for hundreds of dollars.

Shells like the Hawaiian Limpet (made famous by Frank De Lima's song, "Please don't eat me") ("Opihi- Patella sandwichensis Pease) are polished and sold as coin purses in Waikiki's International Marketplace. You can see the difference between its natural ridged surface in the photo and after it has been polished. This one was polished by Mother Nature.

Almost every day, people are surprised when I walk behind them and find a seashell they didn't see. It isn't that my eyesight is any better than their eyesight, it is simply that I know what I am looking for, and they do not. These photos show what to look for on Waikiki beach.

The EASIEST way to find a seashell in Waikiki is to walk in the surf when the tide is coming in. Empty shells - even drilled empty shells - tend to collect and hold air, which gives them a lift on the current, which eventually brings them to shore.

All of the shells in these photos were obtained by walking along Waikiki beach and watching them roll in with the tide. When the waves are high and the current strong, shells can roll in from deep and far, carrying shells one seldom sees in Waikiki, such as the rare and exceptionally beautiful Fragile Violet Snail (Pupupani - lanthina fragilis Lamarck) (not pictured).

My personal favourite is the Swollen Bubble (Hydatina amplustre Linnaeus). Its contrasting pink and black shell makes quite elegant earrings for blue-eyed blondes. I saw one of these shells, smaller than the one shown, on sale at Ala Moana in October, 2000, for $49.95!!! Only a few years ago, the retail price for a Swollen Bubble was only $5.95!

Adam's Bubble (Bulla adamsi Menke)
is quite common in Waikiki; in fact, the Hawaiian Hilton Lagoon has quite a population in excess of 5 cms. The Paper Bubble (Hydatina physis Linnaeus) is quite uncommon, and I have only found one Lined Bubble (Bullina lineata Gray) on Waikiki Beach, and that was five years ago.

The first Polished Nerite (Kupe'e - Nerita polita Linnaeus) taken to Britain was sold at auction in 1806 for nine guineas; yet most tourist never notice the shell unless they see its orifice.

The most frequently seen shells on Waikiki Beach are of the Cowrie family, especially the Humpback (used by Hawaiians as an octopus lure) Snakehead, Money, and although classified "Uncommon", the Granulated Cowrie. Even broken Cowrie shells are used as jewellery because the Cowrie orifice is the only seashell that smiles at you (or frowns - when you see it upside down)!

Cone shells are disappearing at an alarming rate. There are only three still commonly found on Waikiki Beach, the Hebrew Cone (Conus ebraeus Linnaeus), the Spiteful Cone (Conus lividus Hwass) and the Golden Yellow Cone (Conus flavidus Lamarck). Only a few years ago, the deadly Conus Textile Linnaeus (not shown) was fairly common, but its painful/deadly sting apparently did not protect it from determined collectors.

Augers, Miters, Murexes and Spindles are seldom seen anymore. The popular Chinese Horn (Cerithium sinense Gmelin) occasionally rolls up as an hermit crab's mobile home, and spotted Strombs (Stombus maculatus Sowerby) in a variety of colours still hit the beach, as do the Knobbed and Mulberry Drupes.

Two years ago, the Ribbed Turbin (Purpura aperta Blainville) was the most common seashell found at the Hawaiian Hilton beach front; today it is rarely seen, but Arca family shells can still be found on the beach fronting Harbour Road parking lot during the winter months.

The sun-bleached Spiny Helmet (Casmaria erinaceus Linnaeus) in the photo is rarely seen in Waikiki, yet was passed over by countless tourist walking over the coral rubble in front of the Hale Koa Hotel. I was surprised to find it in one piece, and because the shell was not drilled by a predator, it is a perfect home for an Hermit Crab, which really doesn't carry about exterior decoration providing the roof doesn't leak!

This leaves the most collectible shell found at Waikiki (but seldom by tourist): the Tritons. Tritons, including Triton's Trumpet, are usually found at 2 1/2-7 cms., but calcium deposits usually whitewash their colours so, when the shells dry out under the sun, they become as white as the coral rubble which surrounds them, thus escaping easy detection.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, Tritons in Waikiki deviate from normal colours, so it is well worth anyone's while to pick up a Triton shell and dip it in the ocean to ascertain its true colours!

n.b. the background leaf in the photos is from the Breadfruit tree, (still Cooking after all these years) and crab mummies are quite collectible!

What do I do with the shells I find?

This morning (10.IX.00) was extraordinary because I found this flea cone (Conus Pulicarius Hwass) intact; a "common" shell, but uncommonly found unoccupied intact! The Triton is an exquisite variation of the Hairy Triton v(Cymatium Pileare Linnaeus). The 2 cm. cowrie has a lovely honey glow to it, but I have been unable to identify it from my books. So, interesting shells are given to the Waikiki Aquarium to enable docents to "talk story" with visitors, and "show and tell".

Intact shells suitable for hermit crab homes are taken back out to the reef where crabs needing larger homes can find them.

The remaining shells are either distributed along Waikiki Beach where children ("keiki") can find them (but I usually carry a few with me for children who can't find a shell). This is by far the most rewarding experience! This morning I saw a little girl looking for shells so I dropped a damaged humback cowrie shell where she could find it. As soon as she spotted it, she shouted to her sisters, "Come and see what I found!" The elder sister came over, took one look and said, "That's just an old rock!" The sister in the middle apparently didn't care whether it was a rock or a shell because she said, "Can I have it, please?" The middle sister then picked it up, confirmed it was indeed a shell, and off they went to show their treasure to mom!

What a pity more children can't share that experience!

Moana Valentine

This is the especially rare and beautiful Bullina lineata Gray "Lined Bubble" delivered up in perfect condition by a stormy sea on February 14, 2001. This is only the second "Lined Bubble" I've seen on the beach, not only because it is "rare", but also because the shell usually retails between $200-$300, although it is so small (less than one-half inch) that 99.9% of the population can walk by it (or on it) without seeing it. Moral: never judge the value of a shell/person/thing by its size!

It CAN happen on Waikiki Beach!
On July 23, 2002, Gunnel Grubb, Rektor of Scandanavia's oldest operating school (Katedralskolan, established in 1085) was diving along the reef fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel (Duke Kahanamoku Beach) and discovered this beautiful (and vacant !) black-lipped conch shell! You could be next!

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Sharks in Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands:
Hawaiian Volcanoes
Hawaiian gods and goddesses
The Hawaiian Lei
The Hawaiian Monarchy
Defining Aloha
Hawaiian pearls and gold.
Waimea Valley, Oahu, Hawai'i
Other Rico Leffanta web sites

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The Seashells that smile at you are Cowries ("Leho")

One beachcomber's hazard is the Portugese Man of War. This photo shows the Man of War's long stinger leading to the lovely blue bubble head children and adults like to pick up. It only takes once to learn this painful lesson!