The spiral shell of the common whelk (Buccinum undatum) is probably familiar to most of us as it can be found washed up on beaches and rocky shore lines anywhere around the British coastline. It is an important commercial species being a popular shell fish food but populations have declined dramatically since the 1970's and this is believed to be entirely due to over harvesting.
The whelk is also well known for its egg cases which can also be found on beaches; they look like polystyrene packaging! Many of will have seen this on the strand line of beaches but perhaps not realised that it is a natural substance and not man-made.The whelk lays eggs in masses of these cells during the winter but many perish. The empty cases found on our beaches are called wash balls.
Not only is the whelk captured for food but it also because it produces a purple dye which has been used to dye material.