AS a youngster, Eddie Beulke would do what children have done for time immemorial and pick up shells during family holidays to the beach.

Unlike most kids, Eddie’s collections weren’t left to gather dust until they were quietly lost or thrown away.

In fact, the Morwell malacologist – that’s someone who studies shells, the animals that inhabit them and how they exist in the environment – still has some of those shells from his early visits to the Rosebud and Inverloch areas in the 1960s.

Now his collection numbers are in the thousands, carefully stored in drawers and mostly identified and sorted into taxonomic order – although some are still to be identified or even described in scientific journals or by fellow malacologists.

“They go into the too hard basket,” Eddie said.

“Some have been sitting there for 20 years. Every now and then I take them out and have a rethink.”

Eddie said there were 500 different species of shells in Victorian waters alone.

“Anyone who went to the beach between Westernport Bay, Phillip Island through to Tarwin would probably find a few hundred different species ranging in size from a chook’s egg down to the size of a pin head.”

Working with his smaller samples takes special care. 

“I had been using toothpicks but if you get too much force behind them, the shell can disappear across the room,” he laughed.

“I use a very fine artist’s brush to sort them, to roll them apart and separate them. Shells the size of a grain of sand or about half a millimetre are about as small as I can manage.”

One of his favourite species is Cypraea hesitata, a cold-water cowrie found along the south coast of Australia down into Bass Strait and up into Queensland. They grow to the size of a duck egg and range in colour from whitish with pink to light fawn spots to darker spots, or a more golden colour in the Great Australian Bight.

Eddie is self-taught, starting in tech school when he would pore over the school library’s couple of books about shells and make notes in the back of his English book.

“There weren’t any courses,” he recalled.

“It was just talking to other people. Facebook has been an absolute boon to that knowledge increase.”

Facebook has helped him connect with friends and fellow shell enthusiasts in American, south-east Asia, India and Pakistan to exchange information, compare their finds and share thoughts on different species.

“I enjoy mentoring younger people in the study of shells. I try to educate people that oysters, scallops, pips and mussels are all related and that the curly ones, the gastropods, are related to the garden snail and the water snails in their fishpond.”

A long-time supporter of the Inverloch Shell Museum, shift work and general health issues have slowed Eddie down a bit and he only manages three to four visits a year these days, “just to say hello and help where I can”.

But nothing will slow his love of shells.