Whelk Go On Hunger Strike

In support on the Rhode Island Shellfish Management Plan (SMP), Rhode Island Sea Grant has dedicated its 2014-2016 research efforts in the areas of shellfish biology and the ecology of the resources that support shellfish and shellfish management.

Researchers have recently finished their first field season collecting data and will be processing this information over the winter months. Below are the latest updates for Sea Grant-funded projects.

– Updates from Whelk Ecology Research –

Little is known about the basic ecology and biology of New England whelk that is needed for proper management. (The Secret Life of Whelks)

Kathleen Castro from the University of Rhode Island Fisheries Center, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Whelk Fishermen’s Association, will be utilizing knowledge of local whelk fishermen, and conduct targeted research that will better define the biology of the species in Rhode Island waters. 

Whelk replicates at URI GSO lab.

Whelk replicates at URI GSO lab.

Castro and her team have begun conducting a predator-prey analysis of whelk in quahog using six replicates at the URI GSO aquarium lab. Each replicate has one whelk and 5 quahogs of varying sizes, and are monitored daily for feeding activity. Half of the replicates are testing channeled whelk and the other half are testing knobbed whelk.

Over the course of a week, little results were yielded with lab conditions being suspect. Only one whelk ate one quahog, which is suspected to be the result of external stressors from artificial lighting and lack of sediment in the lab setting.

“Whelks were not feeding in the tanks,” said Barbara Somers from the URI Fisheries Center. “We think lighting may be the biggest factor, but not having sediment in the tanks could also be a problem” 

Somers lowers collector cage off URI GSO pier to study whelk behavior

Somers lowers collector cage off URI GSO pier to study whelk behavior

To test this, Castro and her team added a field component with collector cages off of the GSO pier. Again, no luck was had in getting whelks to feed despite using various habitats.

“We have not had any success in getting [whelks] to feed,” said Somers. “We have tried a few different habitats with no success to date.”

“The irony is that [whelks] will eat horseshoe crabs all day…they just won’t touch the quahogs, which is supposed to be their main food according to fishermen,” said Castro.

Somers will test different scenarios within the lab using different lighting sources and sediment-based bottoms to figure out which factor is having the strongest influence on whelk behavior.


– Meredith Haas | Rhode Island Sea Grant Research Communications Specialist

For more research updates, please visit <a title=”Research 2014-2016″ href=”http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/research/2014-2016/”>Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Research page</a>