Clams Wash Up on East Hampton Beaches

Clams washed up on Beach Lane and Town Line Road beaches this weekend. Susan Metzger

Clams scattered the ocean beaches this weekend, leaving many to wonder: What happened? 

The Star received reports of clams, and even dead crabs, covering portions of the sand at Beach Lane and Town Line Beach in Wainscott on Saturday, as well as Main Beach in East Hampton Village throughout the weekend.

Barley Dunne, the director of the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery, said the surf clams likely washed up because of the most recent weather, particularly the wind. "Heavy wind/surf that fluidizes the sandy bottom and washes stuff like that onshore," he said, and prolonged exposure leads to death. Last week's northeaster was during a full moon. Coupled with the wind, water levels were higher than normal, "making the probabilities for clams to get pulled back subtidally less likely," he said.  

John Aldred, the former director of the shellfish hatchery, said he saw the clams on Main Beach in East Hampton Village on Sunday, as well.

"I also saw some clams washed up earlier this winter, although not to this extent and most of them were still alive," Mr. Aldred said. "This kind of thing happens from time to time over most winters and is usually associated with cold snap and storm events," he explained.

Large beds of surf clams are just offshore, in the turbulent surf zone just beyond the outer bar, he said, adding that the zone can be susceptible to the wave action of storms and its effects on the bottom sands. Bivalves are generally weakest at the end of winter as they have not been metabolizing or feeding since the fall and, by this time, have used up their energy reserves, he said. 

The winter was relatively warm and the clams could have been further weakened if the water temperature was warm enough for them to metabolize when adequate food was not available, he said. "I would think that the past couple of weeks' cold temperatures and passing storms finalized this latest die-off, but I wouldn't be surprised if a weakened condition contributed as well."  

Susan Metzger