Climate change could threaten sea snails in mid-Atlantic waters

Common whelk live in one of the fastest warming marine areas, Rutgers-led study says

Rutgers University


 An adult whelk collected aboard a commercial scallop vessel.

Credit: Sarah Borsetti/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Climate change could threaten the survival and development of common whelk – a type of sea snail – in the mid-Atlantic region, according to a study led by scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

The common, or waved, whelk (Buccinum undatum) is an important commercial species that has been harvested for decades in Europe and Canada for bait and human consumption. Its habitat within the mid-Atlantic region is one of the Earth’s fastest warming marine areas and annual fluctuations in the bottom temperature are among the most extreme on the planet due to unique oceanographic conditions.

Climate change will result in higher temperatures and that’s a problem because temperatures are closely linked to the whelk’s spawning cycle and temperature increases could threaten its survival, according to the study in the journal Helgoland Marine Research. This is the first time the species’ annual reproductive cycle in the mid-Atlantic has been documented.

“Previous studies showed that the common whelk, a cold-water species, has some resilience to warmer temperatures,” said lead author Sarah Borsetti, a doctoral student at Rutgers’ Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “But rising temperatures may have a negative impact on whelk survival, recruitment, development and growth.”

Commercial fishermen are interested in developing a fishery for this species in the mid-Atlantic. Similar to the United States, whelk fisheries have expanded in many countries, resulting in a global increase in whelk landings over the last 20 years.

But whelk have highly variable traits, such as reproductive timing, that need to be studied before intense fishing begins, Borsetti added. The species is vulnerable to overexploitation if fishery managers assume populations are uniform throughout its habitat.

“The resilience of whelk comes with a trade-off: fewer offspring, which can negatively impact the whelk population and fisheries landings,” said co-author Daphne Munroe, an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences who is based at the Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory in Port Norris, New Jersey.

Previous research led by the Rutgers group examined traits such as the size whelk reach in maturity, sex ratio and abundance. For the study on whelk reproduction, the team caught 602 whelk off the coast from Cape May County to the Delmarva Peninsula from January 2017 to September 2017. The study examined fluctuations in whelk body metrics, gonad weights and sea-bottom temperatures.


Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center contributed to the study.

From EurekAlert!

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March 11, 2020 10:13 pm

Weather cooling…. warming… change is a progressive risk for seals and walruses. WWF… whack a polar bear. Save the baby seals!

sky king
March 11, 2020 10:56 pm

I say harvest them all before it is too late! Only <12 years left.

March 11, 2020 11:48 pm

Good. They are disgusting things.

Reply to  RoHa
March 12, 2020 12:57 am

the Rutgers group researchers, the whelks or the fishermen ?

Reply to  saveenergy
March 12, 2020 7:00 am

My first experience with “snail salad” I recall required several beers. And they stink to high heaven when you’re boiling them out of the shells–outdoors!

Reply to  Goldrider
March 12, 2020 9:39 pm

Boiling a bunch of Chesapeake Bay whelks in in my kitchen made me persona non-grata for days.
Their foul odor during and after cooking made them very noxious. They ended up as chum, not even bait.

Every book,I looked in for what I assumed were missing directions did not clarify why.
I need to carefully read ‘A.J. McClane’s “The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery” again to see if there is a hidden detail I missed.

Bryan A
Reply to  RoHa
March 12, 2020 12:24 pm

Don’t let Lawrence hear you say that…to him everything is
A wonderful, a wonderful

March 12, 2020 12:10 am

So What !!!:

Evidently Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center have never seen this:

This was probably almost 20 years ago but with the Virus thing near the end I think He was a profit. . . JPP

March 12, 2020 1:02 am

No he was a prophet making a profit…& a lot of sense, a very wise man, much missed.

March 12, 2020 1:14 am

Next sermon from the Global religion-emergency-crisis-extinction-pulpit?

March 12, 2020 1:24 am

Whelk gonad weights …. it’s worse than we thought, experts say.

Charles Higley
Reply to  philincalifornia
March 12, 2020 5:11 am

I would love to know how they work this in with the known temperature cycle of the New England water. Over about 60 years, the waters go from warm to cold and back again. The lobstermen have known about this for a couple hundred years. Lobsters get less common at the warm and cold peaks and thrive in the intermediate temperatures as it goes up and down, a good adaptation as that is the range in which the water spends the most time. The whelks most likely have a very similar response. And they are fine.

Bryan A
Reply to  philincalifornia
March 12, 2020 12:28 pm

Unfortunately for the little Whelk they become Eunuch for the sake of the test
Though I always did like a Unique Whelk

How do you catch a Eunuch Whelk?

Eunuch up on it…

How do you catch a Tame Whelk?

Tame way…

Not Chicken Little
Reply to  Bryan A
March 12, 2020 7:27 pm

Alas, climate change has already done away with the Lawrence Whelk…

March 12, 2020 2:01 am

AS expected, the central argument also here is that “Climate change WILL result in higher temperatures”.
OK, but the Northern Atlantic has cooled with -1,5C the last decade.
But this whelk habitat however is said to be in the mid-Atlantic.
Can anyone give us the actual temperature increase there for the last decade?
Or are we still on the “will result in etc.”-button?

March 12, 2020 2:25 am

I bet, they never heard about AMO

shortus cynicus
March 12, 2020 2:53 am

I bet that Virginia Institute of Marine Science and NOAA is not founded voluntarily by individuals or group of people who earn money through voluntary transactions (like for example big oil companies).

Therefore they are intellectually corrupt and can’t be trusted until they abandon their criminal founding habits. Why should we trust gang of muggers and thugs?

HD Hoese
Reply to  shortus cynicus
March 12, 2020 7:31 am

The Open Access Paper seems reasonable. “Samples were collected in the MAB in partnership with Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) sea scallop targeted fishery sampling.” Didn’t find it on the EurakAlert website, but they frequently take the crisis view. The cold Labrador Current changes the temperature, does funny stuff with the Gulf Stream. Lobsters, seals and other northern species turn up in winter in the study area. VIMS does sponsor fish skeletons under Ocean in Google Earth, closest one there in the Chespeake. The Rutgers Haskin Lab (Mouth of Delaware Bay) knows about the importance of diseases and has put out a lot of good work.

Whelks are important predators of mollusks.

March 12, 2020 3:25 am

The 2020 paper is an attempt to extend their 2017 seasonal cycle paper into the climate change context
But it doesn’t really work.
Please see

HD Hoese
Reply to  chaamjamal
March 12, 2020 10:26 am

Chaamjamal– A stretched interpretation as you discuss is reasonable, but the paper cited neither Nature nor Science [climate crisis pushers], exceptions for 75 [Nature Climate Change] and 81, an 1899 Nature paper about egg capsules. They cited numbers 31-37 (dated 1933 through 2003) indicating that they understood the historical climate situation, unlike many papers that do little homework for the last millennium. Their number 68 (2015) was cited as an example of rapid warming which had this in the abstract. “Recovery of this fishery depends on sound management, but the size of the stock depends on future temperature conditions.” Number 75 had this in their abstract–“These results indicate that marine species’ ranges conform more closely to their limits of thermal tolerance, and thus range shifts will be more predictable and coherent.” I haven’t read their other citation (5) about their work, but the abstract seems reasonable.

As an example of long-known temperature fluctuations in the vicinity check this classic—-Brongersma-Sanders, M. 1957. Mass mortality in the sea. In. J. W. Hedgpeth, Ed., Treatise on Marine Ecology and Paleoecology. Memoir Geological Society of America. 67(1):941-1010. See number 39, page 979– 1882-1883 mass mortality of tilefish near 40 degrees N and 70-71 W probably caused by sudden, temporary invasion of cold bottom water. Both high and low temperatures are limiting factors, cold now often ignored.

Not all science is corrupt, and authors and editors have little control over how their papers are used. Let’s not throw the baby [or ancestors] out with the bath water.

Reply to  HD Hoese
March 13, 2020 5:58 am

Thank you for your kind comment sir although I did not really understand.

March 12, 2020 4:27 am

Nothing to do with climate change. The air in contact with the ocean, UV long wave radiation does not penetrate water. The ocean is warmed by direct sunlight, short wave radiation, down to 100 metres. It’s got nothing to do with carbon dioxide.

Reply to  CLIVE
March 12, 2020 5:26 am

Coming with facts, how dare you ??

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 12, 2020 5:43 am

Well, it would help if he came with the correct ones. UV is short wave radiation. IR is long wave.

Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
March 12, 2020 9:01 am

I think CLIVE is saying the longer-waves of the UV-range doesn’t penetrate.

Charles Higley
March 12, 2020 5:06 am

Well, now that we know that a good deal of East Coast water warming is from tectonic activity, how do they reconcile this with global warming that is not happening? Just ignore all other things?

Stephen Skinner
March 12, 2020 5:59 am

Mid Atlantic? Looking at the species range it is Hudson Bay, the North Sea, Baltic, and coastal waters off Greenland (particularly northern), Iceland, Franz Joseph Land, Svaalbard and Murmansk.

Right-Handed Shark
March 12, 2020 6:16 am

The mid-atlantic? Where this is happening?

Bryan A
Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
March 12, 2020 12:33 pm

If you drained the Atlantic, the Mid Atlantic Ridge would look Fissurey

Reply to  Bryan A
March 12, 2020 4:30 pm

If you drained the Atlantic, Barack Obama wouldn’t have a beachfront dacha for the rising seas to flood anymore.

Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
March 13, 2020 6:08 am

Mid Atlantic Bight

March 12, 2020 7:49 am

The Press Release and the study are at odds. The study includes no data — no information whatever – about changing water temperatures at the depth that whelk live. The study itself is about the possibility of developing a whelk fishery on the Mid-Atlantic Bight — and if they did, when the best time to dredge for whelk might be.

Surface water temperatures along the US Mid-Atlantic coast are affected by the Gulf Stream and changes in the Atlantic Ocean circulations…..

Another case of Press Release science.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
March 13, 2020 6:45 am

Developing fishery industry and climate change impact are two different papers, I thought.

Gordon Dressler
March 12, 2020 7:51 am

And here we have, once again, a fluff article headlining the word “could”.

Pigs could fly, if they had wings.

Please get back to me when an article posts with the word “will” or the phrase “is predicted to”.

March 12, 2020 8:02 am

“in one of the fastest warming marine areas”

Which means that instead of warming at 0.003C/decade, it’s warming at 0.005C/decade.

Clyde Spencer
March 12, 2020 8:05 am

There it is again, the obligatory “could” without benefit of actual probability and uncertainty range, as in “There could be a monster living in Loch Ness.”

March 12, 2020 8:22 am

Rutgers-led study says

Don’t need no stinkin’ studies from those Rutger slimeballs-slugs.

March 12, 2020 8:24 am

In the bumpy ending of the last glaciation, the seas rose 400 feet. That would be 400 feet of cold fresh melt-water dumped quickly into the worlds oceans in two monstrous and quite rapid pulses. Following that the seas would have warmed along with the rest of the biosphere. What the Global Warming extremists call “current catastrophic climate warming” is a farce compared with what climatic swings nature alone has done every 150ky for 2.6 million years. The current sea snail population are the survivors of uncountable natural catastrophes. as are we.

Reply to  sendergreen
March 12, 2020 2:09 pm

Actually it was every 40 ky from 2.6 to 0.8 million years ago.

But the whelks are still around.

As a matter of fact it is a very safe guess that there are NO animal or plant species around by now, that can’t take repeated violent climate swings.

John VC
March 12, 2020 9:29 am

So how long have the whelks shown up in the geologic record. Seems to me that bi-valve fossils show signs of whelk predation for more than a few million years. Of course, I keep forgetting that the climate was 100% stable and never changed until humans showed up and screwed everything.

Reply to  John VC
March 12, 2020 2:28 pm

The true whelks, family Buccinidae dates back to the late Jurassic, about 150 million years ago, and has been an important and speciose family since the Cretaceous.

So they survived both the Chicxulub impact, the temperature maximum in the Eocene and the change from Hothous to Icehouse climate in the Early Oligocene as well as about fifty ice ages in the last 2.6 million years.

And as for where they occur, just about anywhere I would say. Most prefer cold waters (both Arctic and Antarctic), but there are many tropical species too, e. g. in the Caribbean or Indonesia.

Don K
Reply to  John VC
March 12, 2020 2:43 pm

I’m not sure when the first gastropod molluscs (“snails”) show up in the geological record. I think maybe in the Early Cambrian (520,000,000 yrs ago give or take). Maybe even a bit earlier. They were fairly common by the Middle Devonian (400,000,000 years ago).

The whelks (Buccinidae) date back at least to the Cretaceous (65,000,000 years ago or earlier) — probably earlier. I didn’t feel like researching and the Wikipedia article seems to focus mostly on modern whelks. They are distributed worldwide from the polar seas to the tropics. I don’t think a few degrees of change in the temperature of the water around them is likely to bother them much. My bet would be that they’ll probably outlast Homo Sapiens by a lot..

March 12, 2020 9:55 am

Global warming proves Darwin was 100% WRONG. Thank you climate science.

Gordon Dressler
Reply to  Sheri
March 12, 2020 10:43 am

Ummm, Sheri . . . is your post in reference to “survival of the fittest”, or to “survival of the smartest”, or to “survival of those that shout the loudest”?

March 12, 2020 12:09 pm

I can’t but wonder if they were threatened during the last ice age.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
March 12, 2020 1:27 pm

Perfect intro:

These climate researchers couldn’t run a whelk stall!

An old British expression denigrating someone’s competence, described here.

And for fans of James May’s series The Man Lab, there is an episode wherein he sets out to discover just how easy running a whelk stall actually is. He did not consider the impact of climate change however.

Season 5, Episode 5 on Amazon Prime. This link might work:

March 12, 2020 1:39 pm

Once the snails go , so does the whole ecosystem , how dare you.
Thanks for another “Could happen” news anyway

March 13, 2020 2:44 pm


To paraphrase the Almost Occassionally Coherent young lady – OMG!!!

I had my heart set on a whelk chowder for this Friday. You know, Lent and all, and we are supposed to eat fish on Friday and such anyways. Flounder not coming back into the bay yet, and spotted trout still in deep holes.
Ooops! Is a snail considered “fish” ? Even on Fridays during Lent? Hell, I already gave up my traditional great pork rib BBQ for Fridays. And now I have to give up on whelks???

You just can’t win these days.

Gums sends…

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