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Outer Banks seashell hunter hits jackpot with huge shell, says National Park Service

The helmet shell on the right is the normal size for such shells found on the Outer Banks, says the National Parks Service.
The helmet shell on the right is the normal size for such shells found on the Outer Banks, says the National Parks Service. Cape Lookout National Seashore photo

A basketball-sized helmet shell -- four times bigger than average -- was found recently at Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks, thrilling and perplexing National Park Service officials.

Cape Lookout posted photos of the shell on Facebook Tuesday, alongside a helmet shell considered to be “normal size.” The post has gotten nearly 1,000 reactions, many from people awed by the size.

“Jackpot! A sheller’s dream find on the North Core Banks,” said the park’s post. “Every once in a while we are in the right place at the right time to find a treasure such as this large helmet shell.”

The park service didn’t say who found the shell.

Why is it so big?

National Park Service officials told the Charlotte Observer it may be a subspecies of the carnivorous molluscs that live near the Gulf Stream, and have shells that grow over 14 inches. However, those shells have become a rarity on Outer Banks beaches, for unknown reasons, park service officials said.

One thing park officials are sure of: “It died in ‘old age’ after it had reached its maximum size,” said B.G. Horvat of Cape Lookout National Seashore.

“Storm waves do help shells move from their resting place on the ocean floor to the beach. It takes a powerful wave to pick up a heavy shell and carry it ashore... We do seem to be getting a lot of storms.”

Darlene's Shells is the wholesale arm, and The Pearl Nautilus Shell Shop at the Red Barn Flea Market is the retail arm.

Another observation involves the gray colors in the shell, Horvat told the Observer.

“This indicates that both of these snails (in the photo) died a long time ago, long enough for their shells to be buried in sediment and absorb enough minerals from it to stain their shells,” Horvat said. “A recently deceased helmet snail shell is more of a tan color.”

Cape Lookout got national attention for its seashell hunting in January, when the park reported its beaches were weighted with highly collectible seashells.

The abundance of shells was credited to winter storms washing them ashore, and the federal government shutdown, which kept shell collectors out of the park for weeks, reported the Charlotte Observer in January.

A 2,400-square-foot home on the Outer Banks is crumbling into the ocean near the Rodanthe Pier. Video shows part of the home's support structure being torn away by the waves. Video by Chicamacomico Banks Water Rescue

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