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Several different species of large whelks in the family Buccinidae, the true whelks, on sale at a fish market in Japan.
A wild whelk at Miller's Point near Cape Town.

Whelks are any of several carnivorous sea snail species[1] with a swirling, tapered shell. Many are eaten by humans, such as the common whelk of the North Atlantic. Most whelks belong to the family Buccinidae and are known as "true whelks." Others, such as the dog whelk, belong to several sea snail families that are not closely related.

True whelks (family Buccinidae) are carnivorous, and feed on annelids, crustaceans, mussels and other molluscs, drilling holes through shells to gain access to the soft tissues. Whelks use chemoreceptors to locate their prey.[2]

Many have historically been used, or are still used, by humans and other animals as food. In a 100-gram (3+12-ounce) reference serving of whelk, there are 570 kilojoules (137 kilocalories) of food energy, 24 g of protein, 0.34 g of fat, and 8 g of carbohydrates.[3]

Dog whelk, a predatory species, was used in antiquity to make a rich red dye that improves in color as it ages.[4]


The common name "whelk" is also spelled welk or even wilk.

The species, genera and families referred to by this common name vary a great deal from one geographic area to another.

United States[edit]

In the United States, whelk refers to several large edible species in the genera Busycon and Busycotypus, which are now classified in the family Buccinidae. These are sometimes called Busycon whelks.

In addition, the unrelated invasive murex Rapana venosa is referred to as the Veined rapa whelk or Asian rapa whelk in the family Muricidae.


In Brazil, there is a very popular Afro-Brazilian divination game practiced by older women of African ancestry called jogo de búzios (game of whelks), which uses empty shells of these gastropods.

British Isles, Belgium, Netherlands[edit]

In the British Isles, Belgium and the Netherlands (wulk/wullok), the word is used for a number of species in the family Buccinidae, especially Buccinum undatum, an edible European and Northern Atlantic species.

In the British Isles, the common name "dog whelk" is used for Nucella lapillus (family Muricidae) and for Nassarius species (family Nassariidae). Historically, they were a popular street food in Victorian London, typically located close to public houses and theatres.[5]


In Scotland, the word "whelk" is also used to mean the periwinkle (Littorina littorea), family Littorinidae.[6]

West Indies[edit]

In the English-speaking islands of the West Indies, the word whelks or wilks (this word is both singular and plural) is applied to a large edible top shell, Cittarium pica, also known as the magpie or West Indian top shell, family Trochidae.


Skewered whelks from Japan.

In Japan, whelks (ツブ, 螺, tsubu) are frequently used in sashimi and sushi. In Vietnam, they are served in a dish called Bún ốc - vermicelli with sea snails. Golbaengi-muchim (골뱅이 무침) is a Korean dish consisting of whelks and with chili sauce in a salad with cold noodles. It has been a very popular side dish with alcohol for many generations.

Australia, New Zealand[edit]

In Australia and New Zealand, species of the genus Cabestana (family Ranellidae) are called predatory whelks, and species of Penion (family Buccinidae) are called siphon whelks.

Some common examples[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Conch, another common name used for a wide variety of large sea snails or their shells


  1. ^ "Whelk". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 26 Feb 2023.
  2. ^ "Snails and Slugs (Gastropoda)". www.molluscs.at.
  3. ^ "Nutrition and Calories in Whelk". recipeofhealth.com.
  4. ^ Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England by Saint the Venerable Bede (Book 1, Chapter 1).
  5. ^ Werner, Alex. (2011). Dickens's Victorian London : 1839-1901. Williams, Tony., Museum of London. London: Museum of London. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-09-194373-8. OCLC 754167835.
  6. ^ Multilingual Dictionary of Fish and Fish Products, prepared by the OECD, Paris, second edition, 1978

External links[edit]