Exploring Ocean Life: Whelks

Whelk and egg case

printable whelk fact sheet


While we are all home, your children can have some fun learning about fascinating inhabitants of the natural world and doing enjoyable creative projects.

“Whelks” is the fourth in a series of online offerings from the Vanderbilt Museum’s educators.

Other projects in the Exploring Ocean life series:

Hammerhead Sharks

Whale Sharks

Sea Turtles

What are we?

Whelks are predatory sea snails. Scientifically they are known as gastropods. (You can print out the drawing below and color or paint it.)

What do we look like?

Whelks are long, soft-bodied animals with a spiral shell. The shell has one opening called an aperture. A muscular foot emerges through the aperture and is used to move around. An operculum is attached to the foot and acts as a door when the snail retracts inside of its shell. A siphon draws in oxygen-rich water.  Tentacles on the head are used to sense prey. Black eye spots are located at the base of the tentacles. A proboscis is a tube-like feature on the head with a mouth and radula (teeth).

Where do we live?

Whelks are found in marine waters around the world. Whelks usually prefer sandy or muddy habitats.

What do we eat?

Whelks are carnivores and prey on clams, oysters, mussels, and other sea snails.

Who/what are our predators?

Crabs, sea turtles, sea stars, urchins, and cod feed on whelks.

Did you know?

Whelks appeared on earth before dinosaurs.

A whelk feeds by using the lip of its shell to chip away at a clam and uses its strong muscular foot to separate the shells. It then inserts its proboscis to digest the meat. Sometimes whelks feed on bivalves or snails using a secretion to soften the shell then drilling a hole with its radula.

For more fun, print out this Whelk Word Search. 

Whelks are invertebrates. They do not possess an internal skeletal system.

What other invertebrates do you know?

Whelks are part of a larger group of animals called mollusks that includes clams, oysters, scallops, squids, and octopuses.

Mollusks with one shell are univalves and those with two shells are bivalves.

Whelks are consumed by people around the world and are delicious! Have you ever tried them?

Whelks do not have complex eyes.

Whelks can live up to forty years.

A whelk’s color depends on the food it eats.

Channeled whelks, knobbed whelks, and lightning whelks make strings of egg cases. Each case contains hundreds of eggs that develop into tiny baby whelks.

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