Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interesting Beach Sighting: Tiny Clams Wash Ashore

It's summertime and many of us find ourselves strolling New England beaches. These trips to the seashore often turn up interesting marine animals or unusual events. Just such a curious event happened last week in Hull. Beach walkers may have noticed thousands of tiny clams on Nantasket Beach, on the sand and just below the water line. What could have caused all these baby clams to wash up on Nantasket Beach?

We took that question to our aquaculture specialist in the Conservation Department, Michael Eppling.
While he wasn't aware of this particular event, he said these kinds of clam wash-ups are not uncommon. Among other things, they can be caused by disease, depredation, and storms.


Storms can generate strong wave action and/or undercurrents that uproot clams from the bottom and strand them on the beach. Since there were severe thunderstorms with strong winds on July 18, the day before the pictures were taken, this may have been the cause of the Nantasket die-off. Clams, however, are highly prolific, releasing millions of eggs and sperms at a time. So clam populations can generally withstand high larval and juveniles losses.

This particular clam die-off was brought to our attention by Facebook friend Steve Fullers. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your pictures with us!

See? You can learn something new every day with the New England Aquarium. Join us on Central Wharf this summer and get to know some other local bivalves and crustaceans in our hands-on tidepool touch area. Check out this link to see a touch-tank-resident hermit crab laying eggs. And if you think that is cool, don't miss these posts about the octopus eggs (these eggs are still on exhibit, come by very soon if you want to see them in person) or the goosefish egg veil.


  1. This was a fasinationg post and appreciate all the learning and teaching going on here at THE NEA. Thank you one of your biggest fans jan walsh

    1. Thanks, Jan! It's such a pleasure knowing that folks enjoy learning about our blue planet.

  2. I also saw it today at Nantasket, disease and storms, maybe, but could it also have something to do with the Department of Fish and Game seeding clams on Thompson Island on the 25th? See link:

  3. There were thousands more today, August 2nd, at Nantasket. They seem to be coming up from the sand and they don't go back in the water with the tide. Are they here to stay forever? The smell is pretty bad!

  4. Hi All,

    These small clams were abundant and obvious during July 4th week, all which predate the observations noted here. I would also say the nearshore Atlantic was warmer than I've experience that early (July) than the 25 years I've been surfing Nantasket Beach.

  5. Is this a saftey hazard, especially to young children?

  6. Thanks for the interesting info. we were at Nantasket beach last weekend and this weekend in the private home area. the smell was AWFUL. there were .... millions of baby clams everywhere. I talking to some folks there this is a very rare thing. people living there for 30 plus years have never seen anything like this before. Once the tide came in it was better. Nantasket Beach is so beautiful though. hopefully this will clear up soon thx

  7. The beach is now practically carpeted with these baby clams. Some of them floating on the surface of the water. The smell is horrible. I have lived here awhile and have never seen anything like it. I, too, wonder about what effects this may incur.

  8. The only thing that I do not understand is why this is being called a mass dieoff? I have seen these clams in person myself and even have some video recorded from my phone. These clams are very much alive. The dead clams were the ones caught exposed when the tied retreated or eaten by the gulls; however, the clams at the waters edge are alive and very actively digging and even crawling. If disease killed them causing to them become uprooted from the sand and washed ashore then why would they be alive?

  9. we just got back from Hampton Beach New Hampshire and on Sept. 12 2012 there were billions of them. piles upon piles all along the low tide. and in the shallow water. you could notice some of them were still alive as they tried to burrow in the sand...when the tide came in the vanished back into the ocean. truly the strangest thing ive ever seen on shore...and luckily it didnt smell. i do know there were storms about a week ago.. dont know how that could have set this off..?? interested to know exactly what may have caused this...

  10. Can't say I agree with the die off thing, They are live and kickin'. I walk the beach every day for 15 years now. You see the big sea clams roll in but never the little ones. There are thousands and thousands out there today on Nantasket Beach. I even tried eating some, they were fresh as can be. Baby sea clams are a little sandy but tasty.


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