We’ve all seen cartoons, movies, and other depictions of oysters where the shell opens up to reveal a bright and brilliant pearl nestled within. However, the reality is, because it’s rare to find a pearl in an oyster, shell collectors may go their whole lives without seeing one. But let’s say you’ve had the immense luck of finding a pearl in an oyster — what should you do next?
If you find a pearl in an oyster, the best thing to do is to leave the creature alone and return it to the sea, if possible. While there are ways to remove the pearl safely, you could end up killing the oyster in the process, so it’s best to avoid trying.
While all oysters can create pearls, only a tiny percentage (one in 10,000 at best) end up making pearls, of which only a handful are worth anything. In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss what to do if you find an oyster with a pearl and the best way to handle such a situation.
Should You Remove a Pearl From an Oyster?
While pearls are cultivated by the thousands every year, and the industry is thriving, extracting a pearl from an oyster is considered cruel by many.
You shouldn’t remove a pearl from an oyster when you find one because opening the shell forcibly will result in the death of the oyster. And while there are ways to take a pearl without harm, most people don’t possess the skills or tools to safely do so.
While pearl farmers claim there are ethical ways of extracting pearls, few (if any) can guarantee that the oyster won’t die during the process. In fact, most pearl farms are known for killing thousands of oysters every year to obtain their precious pearls.
And even if it’s possible to extract a pearl safely, doing so requires immense skill and surgical equipment, both of which are in short supply on a sunny day at the beach. Most people have to open up an oyster to find a pearl, and this means killing the animal.
As a shell collector, a guiding principle should be to leave living things alone or return them to the water. It’s best to collect dead sea shells and exoskeletons to add to your collection and leave live specimens alone. And if you’re picking up oysters in the water, it’s likely they’re still alive.
When Is It Safe To Take Pearls From an Oyster?
Live oysters typically keep their shells shut to protect the soft interior. If you see an open oyster, the shell will immediately shut when the creature senses noise or disturbance nearby. However, if you see an oyster with an open shell that doesn’t close even after a few minutes, you can conclude that the creature is dead and safe to take home. As such, the only time it’s safe to take a pearl from an oyster is when the shell is open long enough and you see a pearl inside.
However, as we’ll soon see, the chances of such a find are practically impossible.
Why the Chance of Finding an Oyster With a Pearl Is Low
We know that opening an oyster for its pearls will immediately kill the creature. As such, if you find an oyster with a pearl, it’s best to leave it alone. As a collector, though, you may be tempted to open up an oyster to check for pearls. And sure, some of us may believe that killing one or two oysters is worth the risk and the guilt involved.
However, the likelihood of finding a pearl is so low, that it’s best to leave the oyster untouched. Consider that only one in 10,000 oysters can produce pearls. And most shell collectors probably won’t come across so many oysters in their lifetime!
Given the odds of finding a pearl in a clam, it’s best to leave these animals alone when you find them. Check out my other article to see how unlikely that really is: These Are The Chances Of Finding A Pearl In Clam
A Pearl Takes Long To Form
One of the main reasons why finding a pearl in an oyster is extremely rare is because pearls take a long time to form inside an oyster. A pearl begins to form when a foreign particle enters the oyster’s shell, such as:
- Food scraps
These foreign bodies can be dangerous to the soft and vulnerable insides of the oyster, and the creature initiates a defensive response to them, which involves releasing aragonite and conchiolin, two compounds that are used to form the hard shell.
These substances mix to form “nacre,” a material also popularly called mother-of-pearl. This nacre starts to coat the foreign body in a hard, shiny exterior which eventually becomes the pearl we all love and adore.
However, the process of creating a pearl is far longer than most humans would like to wait. Even small oysters that create tiny pearls can take up to six to eight months to make a pearl. Larger oysters make bigger, more valuable pearls and these can take years to form.
As such, even if you open an oyster creating a pearl, your timing has to be on point to find a pearl that’s fully formed.
Not All Pearls Are Valuable
Another reason to avoid looking for pearls in an oyster is that most pearls aren’t valuable. In fact, there are only a handful of oyster breeds that produce pearls of significant value. And of these, it’s extremely rare to find naturally-occurring pearls in the wild.
Additionally, these oysters can only be found along certain coasts, making the possibility of a high-value pearl even rarer. For example, Akoya pearls and South Sea pearls are highly valuable, with some specimens valued at thousands of dollars.
However, the oysters that produce these pearls are rare and can mostly be found in pearl farms. Even if you find these creatures in the wild, the chances of them holding a fully-formed pearl are next to nothing, and it’s not worth killing an innocent animal in the faint hope that you’ll stumble on a pearl.
So, if you happen to find a pearl in an oyster (which you can only check by opening the shell), it’s best to leave the creature alone. Aside from the obvious cruelty involved, the incredibly low chances of finding a pearl should dissuade you from this course of action.
Instead, look for dead sea shells and oysters you can add to your collection.
What To Do With Oyster Shells
Now you know why opening an oyster shell for a pearl is cruel, and often goes unrewarded. However, as a collector, you’re sure to come across several oyster shells while searching the beach. Fortunately, there are several things to do with seashells. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Make Sea Shell Chains
This is probably one of the quickest and most straightforward craft ideas for your sea shells. All you need is a drill bit and some thin rope to get you started. If the shells are too thin, you may want to use a stone to wear away the surface and then poke a hole with a pin to pass the rope through.
Once you’ve lined up the shells how you want, make a hole in each one and pass the rope through, tying a knot after each shell so it doesn’t slide down the rope. You can hang these chains from the curtain rod alongside your curtains for some added decoration.
Create Oyster Candles
Oyster candles are another great craft idea that’s super easy to make. For this one, it’s best to get bigger oysters with a larger cavity on the inside of the shell.
All you have to do is melt your candles by double boiling them in a vessel. Once you have the liquid wax, place a wick in the oyster shell and pour the wax into the cavity. Allow the wax to cool off properly and voila — your oyster candle is ready!
Design Oyster Jewelry
Shell jewelry is an exciting craft idea and will give you that natural beach vibe with any outfit you wear. Jewelry is also pretty easy to make with the right equipment. As with the chain, you’ll need a drill bit to make holes and a thick chain to hold the shells. You can also make sea shell earrings if you have the right equipment.
Finding a pearl in an oyster may seem like a blessing, but unless the oyster is lying on the beach with its shell open, it’s best to leave the creature alone. As mentioned, you won’t know when a pearl is fully formed, and it seems cruel to take a guess when the chances are so small.
So the best course of action is to leave the live oysters alone because even if they have pearls, you’re unlikely to make more than a few bucks. And it’s not worth harming an innocent animal when you’re just out to collect sea shells.